Journal Review: “Left Intellectuals after 1956” may not sound like the most exciting of titles but the latest edition of Socialist History (no 51) contains a lot of fascinating material, especially for older Bristol Radical History activists.

Michael Shatz’s opening sentence sets the tone – “Why did so many intellectuals tolerate the sterile and stifling culture of the Communist Party (CPGB) during the decade following the Second World War?” He provides his own answer in his article on “The Post-war Decade and ‘The Cage of Party Orthodoxy’” and other articles make it clear that many of the brightest and best – Arnold Kettle, Ralph Miliband, C.L.R James, E.P. Thompson – simply did not tolerate it. After the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, there was a virtual exodus of the Party’s intellectuals and much of interest emerged as a consequence.

I found the article on History Workshop especially interesting as I went to one of its early meetings at Ruskin College Oxford and shared in the excitement of events that “put worker-historians on an equal footing with academic historians, undermining the structured inequalities that determine the dynamics of learning and teaching encounters.” The article acknowledges the way in which the History Workshop Journal “increasingly became the target of criticisms that centred on its academic and elitist drift”.

There is too much emphasis on Raphael Samuel’s role in History Workshop and not enough on the part played by Anna Gavin. Indeed the whole edition of Socialist History 51 is very male dominated, but perhaps that is simply a reflection of the period on which it is focussed.

Socialist History website:

Colin Thomas

Socialist History (51) Cover

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