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'A peripheral vision': A comment on the historiography of Communism in Britain

Laybourn, Keith (2005) 'A peripheral vision': A comment on the historiography of Communism in Britain. American Communist History, 4 (2). pp. 159-166. ISSN 1474-3892

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Abstract

‘‘A Peripheral Vision’’ is a timely and much needed critical review of the recent
debate that has occupied historians of British Communist history, most bitterly
in the pages of Labour History Review (LHR). It presents powerful arguments
for reuniting the role of Stalinism with work on the British Party leadership and
the rank-and-file activists in future histories. The vital point is that the
revisionist history which has emerged since the 1980s has sought to remove,
or at least greatly downplay, the importance of the Russian leadership as one of
the factors, undoubtedly, in the view of this writer, the primary one, in the
evolution of the CPGB. Revisionists have rejected the work of Pelling, Kendall
and Macfarlane, who are criticized for believing that the CPGB was robotic
in its acceptance of Moscow direction.1 In contrast McIlroy and Campbell are
adamant that only reinstatement of the centrality of Bolshevism and Stalinism
will permit an accurate picture of the Party.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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References:

1Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party: An Historical Profile (London: A. & C. Black, 1958);
Leslie J. Macfarlane, The British Communist Party: Origins and Development Until 1929 (London:
MacGibbon & Kee, 1966); Walter Kendell, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900–1921
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1969).2James Eaden and David Renton, The Communist Party of Great Britain Since 1920 (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2002).
3Nina Fishman, ‘‘Essentialists and realists: reflections on the historiography of the CPGB,’’
Communist History Network Newsletter (Autumn 2001), 7–16.
4Ibid., 11.
5Harriet Jones, ‘‘Is CPGB history important?,’’ Labour History Review (LHR), 67(3), (2002), 348.
At the April 2001 conference J. McIlroy and A. Campbell presented a paper on ‘‘Communist trade
union leaders, 1949–91: the case of the South Wales miners’’.6John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, ‘‘Editorial: new directions in international Communist
historiography,’’ LHR, 68:1 (2003), 3.
7McIlroy and Campbell, ‘‘Histories of the British Communist Party,’’ LHR, 68:1 (2003), 35.
8Jones, ‘‘CPGB history,’’ 349.
9Ibid.
10Alan Campbell and John McIlroy, ‘‘Is CPGB history important? A Reply to Harriet Jones,’’ LHR,
68:3 (2003), 385–90.
11Jones, ‘‘CPGB History,’’ 350.12See, for example, Nina Fishman, The British Communist Party and the Trade Unions, 1933–45
(Aldershot: Scolar, 1995), 2, 20, n. 18; Matthew Worley, Class Against Class: The Communist Party in
Britain Between the Wars (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002), 13.
13Bryan D. Palmer, ‘‘Rethinking the historiography of United States Communism,’’ American
Communist History, 2 (December 2003) and the associated symposium.14Fishman, ‘‘Essentialists and realists’’, 8; Gidon Cohen and Kevin Morgan, ‘‘British students at the
International Lenin School, 1926–37: a reaffirmation of methods, results and conclusions,’’ Twentieth
Century British History, 15(1), (2004), 84.
15Andrew Thorpe, ‘‘Comintern ‘control’ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920–43,’’ English
Historical Review, 113(452), (1998), 662; Worley, Class Against Class, 69.
16Fishman, Communist Party, especially 331–42.
17Kevin Morgan, ‘‘Parts of people and Communist lives’’ in John McIlroy, Kevin Morgan, and
Alan Campbell, eds, Party People, Communist Lives: Explorations in Biography (London: Lawrence &
Wishart, 2001), 25–6.18Matthew Worley, ‘‘Left turn: a reassessment of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Third
Period 1928–1933,’’ Twentieth Century British History, 11 (December 2000), 359; Worley, Class Against
Class.
19Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism
from Lenin to Stalin (London: Macmillan, 1996), 73–5.
20Ibid., 73–4.
21Noreen Branson, Communist Party 1927–1941, 19; Willie Thompson, The Good Old Cause (London:
Pluto, 1992), 41–6.
22CC Minutes, 9 March 1933.23PB Minutes, 6 April, 4 May 1933. Keith Laybourn and Dylan Murphy, Under the Red Flag:
A History of Communism in Britain (Stroud: Sutton, 1999), 78–83.
24British Intelligence decrypts, particularly 19, 31 August 1936, National Archives, London,
HW/17/22.
25Monty Johnstone, ‘‘The CPGB, the Comintern and the War, 1939–41: Filling in the Blackspots,’’
Science and Society, 61(1), (1997), 28.
26M. Holdsworth, once active in the CPGB in Huddersfield, has often told me his step-father,
a Jewish Communist who left Austria in 1938, and Bert Ramelson, CPGB Yorkshire District
Organizer, later CPGB Industrial Organiser, were prepared to endure Stalinism because of their faith
in international Communism.
27Ross McKibbin, ‘‘Why was there no Marxism in Britain?,’’ English Historical Review, 99
(April 1984).

Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 12 May 2008 11:17
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2010 13:13
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/739

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