Monday, 7 February 2011

Notes on Marxism and History by Matt Perry

Matt Perry book contains some interesting observations on the Communist Party Historians group. He says previously Marxists had been revolutionaries who happened to write on history. That changed with a new generation of academic Marxists.

CPHG had a sizable membership and did not just contain its “stars”. Recruited heavily from Cambridge University. One of the groups enduring legacy was that it substantially questioned and in many ways overturned the proceeding Whig interpretation of history.

The Group also created the climate for an attack on the Clapham Schools interpretation of the industrial revolution which put forward that there was an “accelerated evolution” rather than an industrial revolution. The Clapham School was largely the regurgitation of an anti-Marxism school of historiography under the Whig historians. Denied the possibility of any revolutionary transformation of society.

E H Carr book What Is History was largely a rebuttal of the British empiricists such as I Berlin. Carr also sought to oppose the concept that history could be understood and analysed. Carr was hostile to J P Hartley The Go Between who in the opening chapter said that “the past is a foreign country”.

Perry makes a valid point that the CPHG historians concentrated on their particular field because of the political dominance of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In this case writing on the Soviet Union really was a foreign country.

The group never recovered from the 1956 secret speech of N Khruschev work exposed Stalin’s crime. Exposed the dialectical nature between politics and history. The group paid a heavy price for its refusal to write on the Russian Revolution.


Matt Perry Marxism and History Palgrave 2002

Clapham School. J H Clapham was an economic historian 1873-1946 works included A concise economic history of Britain

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