Party People, Communist Lives: Explorations in Biography

Party People, Communist Lives: Explorations in Biography

Party People, Communist Lives: Explorations in Biography

Party People, Communist Lives: Explorations in Biography

Synopsis

This collection of biographical essays brings to life a diverse and colourful cavalcade of British revolutionaries from the first part of the 20th century. The cast includes pioneering women Communists, doughty trade union leaders and dusty apparatchiks, together with lawyers, poets, critics and the odd sexual outlaw.

Excerpt

We live in the golden age of biography. Despite the hostility of the rich and famous – and not a few university intellectuals – the appetite of the reading public for this ever-expanding genre appears insatiable. and it is a genre that is expanding not only in volume but in its concerns and sophistication. While much contemporary biography remains within orthodox parameters, there has also been a wealth of new approaches and subjects. the claims of marginal, intriguing, subterranean and exotic subjects have been increasingly asserted, and there has been widespread critical discussion on the nature of biographical writing. Critics have pointed to the complexities of human identity and the tendentiousness of its recreation; to the validity of competing versions of the past; and to the nuances of the interpenetration between biographers and their subject. There has also been discussion on the fragility of the frontiers between art and history.

Communists have strong claims on the marginal and intriguing, and they have also boasted their fair share of subterranean and exotic lives. Yet Communist historiography has in the main been impoverished by its disregard of biography. Thus in Perry Anderson’s magisterial memorandum on Communist history published in 1981, the nearest he got to biography when listing the five main types of work was ‘Memoirs’, and these were largely ‘official-anecdotal’. However, as Kevin Morgan demonstrates in the first chapter of this book, things are looking up. Historians of communism are beginning to avail themselves of the possibilities of ‘life history’, even if they have scarcely explored the potential of the headier approaches to it.

This collection reflects this new interest in Communist people. Drawing upon the cpgb archives in Manchester and Moscow, it brings together newly researched essays on a variety of figures from the early years of British communism. the contributors share a belief that writing biography can be an exciting and rigorous way of writing history, one which restores the flesh and blood, the inspiration and . . .

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