An evening of debate and discussion with Manchester University's Ben Harker draws on two different texts. Tonight, readers are invited to delve into unusual territories - a chapter of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union / Bolsheviks (Short Course), and an unpublished paper by Communist novelist Jack Lindsay - a paper that was to cause outrage when presented to the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1945.
The Short Course, published in 1939 and widely supposed to have been written by Stalin, is the centrally authorised version of Marxist thought. Socialist historian E.P. Thompson describes it as ‘a document of the very first historical importance’…‘the fundamental “education” text of Communists from Stalingrad to Cardiff and Calcutta to Marseilles.’
Jack Lindsay’s text was a direct challenge to its orthodoxy. According to Lindsay, the approved base and superstructure model, which presented culture as secondary to economic structures, was a distortion of Marxist thought.
Using Marx’s early, more humanist writings as a point of reference, Lindsay called on the party to move towards ‘creative Marxism’, with culture and working-class participation in the arts as its axiom.
The result is an academic stand-off between economics and culture in Marxist thought. Texts are available from Anglo-Russian Research Network website, or from the organisers themselves, whose contacts are on the site.
BEN HARKER is Lecturer in Twentieth-century British Literature at the University of Manchester. His first book was Class Act: The Cultural and Political Life of Ewan MacColl (Pluto Press, 2007) and more recently he co-edited British Communism: A Documentary History (MUP, 2011). In 2013 he was the Jackson Brothers Visiting Fellow at Yale University. His articles on culture and the left have appeared in journals including History Workshop, Textual Practice, Science & Society, ELH and Literature & History. He’s an editor of Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism and is currently writing a book entitled British Communism and the Idea of Culture.