History, memory and communism

I have a new article out in British Politics.* It’s about the final years of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In particular, I’m trying to understand the way in which history and memory were used and understood by members as the party was breaking up.

The connection between history, memory and political identity is something I’m interested in anyway, but the CPGB is a particularly interesting case. It had a very strong sense of collective memory, which meant that members’ understandings of their own lives were inextricably bound up with narratives of the party and with the sense of ‘being communist’. The breakdown of this identity as the CPGB broke up and the USSR collapsed was painful for many members and led to intense discussions and attempts to build new narratives of the past and new identities for the future.

But this was about history as well as memory. Marxism is explicitly based on an interpretation of history and the historical process. This had long caused tensions within the CPGB, with most of its leading historians leaving the party in 1956. In 1989, Marxists (and Marxist historians in particular) struggled to make sense of the new historical context and the fear that history may not be on their side after all.

However, this wasn’t a problem for all communists. Other parties, such as the New Communist Party, Communist Party of Britain and Socialist Workers Party, interpreted the events of 1989 rather differently and so were able to hold their narratives and their identities together.

*If you don’t have a subscription to British Politics but would like to read it, let me know.

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