The Communist Party of Great Britain archive

The National Cultural Committee of the CPGB
ISBN: 
9781851171651
Date published: 
July 2008
Microfilm
Price: 
£1.00

Series CP/CENT/CULT: In 1975 the so-called 'Gould Report' detailed the penetration of Marxists into British universities and drew particular attention to the CPGB's successful annual event, the
Communist University of London. One is not required to share the author's alarmist premises to accept that the communists' cultural and intellectual influence,
in particular periods and particular disciplines, was enormous. Doubtless, communist intellectuals must often have shared the historian E. P. Thompson's impatience with 'Emilism': the bureaucratic interference that Thompson associated with the party's leading cultural functionary, Emile Burns. Indeed, it is suggestive of the intellectuals' high defection rate and less exclusive commitment to the party that the archive contains none of the papers of those, like Thompson or the scientists Haldane or Bernal, who achieved a major intellectual standing outside the party's ranks. Nevertheless, there are major holdings for 'party' intellectuals like R. Palme Dutt and Ivor Montagu. And there are also the files of the National Cultural Committee, set up in 1947 with a view at once to policing and to nurturing the flow of Marxist ideas. These do rather give the view from King Street, and from Burns's office as the committee's secretary. Nevertheless, they also testify to the range of intellectual endeavours undertaken by the party. Fragmentary survivals include papers of the Sigerist Society, Engels Society (biology) and the psychology and architects' groups, while rather fuller documentation exists for the artists' group and there is a full run of the music group's Music and Life. Unquestionably the most distinguished of these bodies was the Historians' Group, which, at a formative period of their lives, brought together luminaries like Edward Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and John Saville, and thus came to exercise a profound influence on English historical scholarship. Happily there survive fairly extensive records for the group, dating from its heyday in the 1950s to its later, less influential activities as the CPGB History Group. With the records of the Historians' Group one should perhaps add the papers of Dona Torr (q.v.), whom many of its younger figures regarded as the doyenne of British Marxist historians (see below CP/IND/TORR)