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English Literature and Creative Writing

Wars of position: Communism and civil society

Taking a new look at communism in the west.

The traditional focus of historians has been the failure of parties to seize states. Drawing on the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, this project instead analyses parties’ sporadic and divisive struggles to transform civil society (education, media, science, the arts, popular culture).

Communist march, Ukraine

The AHRC funded project catalogues and opens to researchers the papers of three British communists who emphasised the importance of civil society as a site of politics (Monty Johnstone, John Attfield, Paul Olive).

Comprising over sixty boxes in total, this material casts new light on the 1945-1990 period and enhances the internationally significant archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain, held in the People's History Museum (PHM), Manchester.

There's more information about the archive collection on the PHM website:

A day-school at the PHM in June 2016 brought together researchers and former Communist Party activists to analyse ideas of communist commitment in relation to this material.

Find out more about the event on the PHM website's What's on page:

Two exhibitions at the PHM in 2017 (the first in June) will de-familiarise British Communism for the general public, highlighting its 'cultural' concerns, conflicts and contradictions.


The project culminates with a three-day international, interdisciplinary conference at the People's History Museum (8-10 June 2017), which brings together political theorists and researchers in twentieth-century communism. It asks whether those currents of communism angled at the transformation of civil society remain of relevance today when so much of communism has passed into history.

Wars of Position Conference Programme

Wars of Position: Communism and Civil Society international conference, Manchester, UK, 8 - 10 June 2017


Thursday, 8 June 2017


Registration, Coffee


Keynote One: Kevin Morgan

'Communism and civil society: the negation of the negation?'

Chair: Ben Harker




Panel One

Reading British Communism:

Lewis Young, ‘More than just “education, agitation and organisation”?: the Communist Party of Great Britain and its daily newspaper’

Jonathan Roscoe, ‘Communism at the crossroads: the crisis at the Left Book Club in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet pact’

Marzia Maccaferri, ‘Marxism Today and Italian Communism: a case-study for Marxism and civil-society’

Herbert Pimlott, ‘“New Model Party?”: the Communist Party’s ‘hegemonic apparatus’ as ‘the scaffolding” for ‘oppositional culture’ in the UK, 1977-1983’



New Lefts:

Rory Scothorne, ‘Left out of Britain?: democracy, autonomy and nationalism on the Scottish radical left, 1968-1979’

Alan Hooper, ‘Traditions, transitions and revolutions: the New Left in search of hegemony’

Nick Stevenson, ‘The responsibilities of the intellectual and the critical legacies of Orwell: Communism, the New Left and Anarchism’

Madeleine Davis and Ross Speer, ‘Gramscism, the New Left and the problems of socialist strategy: the case of 7 Days










Tea and coffee


Panel Two:


Novel Formations:

Glyn Salton-Cox, ‘Uncivil society: Engels, Margaret Harkness, and the Lumpenproletariat’

John Connor, ‘Lukács, popular democracy and the novel’

Thomas Travers, ‘Historical novel of late capitalism: Libra as war of position’


Politics, Civil Society, Letters:

Mila Milani, ‘The Italian Communist Party and the failure of a ‘transnational’ party cultural journal

Marie-Cécile Bouju, ‘The PCF publishing houses 1920-1950: serving Marxism?’

Victor Strazzeri, ‘Revolution without rupture: Eurocommunists’ transnational debate on civil society in the1970s and 1980s’




Drinks Reception, Launch of Wars of Position: British Communism and Civil Society Exhibition

Friday 9/6/17


Panel Three:


Archives, Agency:

Meirian Jump, Marx Memorial Library, ‘Radical archives as radical agents’

Stefan Dickers, Bishopsgate Institute, ‘Radical archives versus radical archiving’

James Darby, PHM, TBC



Counter Cultures:

Christina Petterson, ‘Bourgeois society and the Christian self’

Joanna Bullivant, ‘Music in the Communist Party of Great Britain: the case of Alan Bush’

Daniel Weinbren, ‘The singing schmutter strikes’

Elinor Taylor, ‘Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens: contemporary genre and communist historiography’




Panel Four:


Civil society:

Marco Vanzulli, ‘Labour, civil society, classes’

Yohann Douet, ‘Civil society as a strategic and historical concept in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks’

Baraneh Emadian, ‘Civil society in the light of the capital-nation-state’

John Varty, ‘Post-Marxism, civil society and the critique of Marxism’


John Smith, ‘Marxism vs Euro-Marxism’

Bárbara Sepúlveda Hales, ‘Who benefits from the gender pay gap?: A Marxist feminist analysis’

Vicente Ségure, ‘Unions in the war of position: an analysis of the decomposition of Chilean unions’

Alex Tebble, ‘Karl Marx and the capitalist vampires: is exploitation an injustice?’


Masses, Movements, Marxism:

Lev Centrih, ‘The failure of socialist civil society in 1980s Slovenia (Yugoslavia)

Tauno Saarela, ‘Finnish Communism and ideological institutions in the 1920s’

Ken Cheng, ‘Proletarian mass, modernist party: the invention of German orthodox Marxism, 1875-1899’

Sebastian Berg, ‘Marxism and the Greens: a comparison of parties and movements in Britain and Germany’











Tea and coffee



Keynote Two: Jodi Dean

‘The Actuality of Revolution’


Saturday 10 June 17


Panel Five:



Nizan Shaked, ‘Form and finance: contradictory mediations in the non-profit museum system’

M. A. Nolan, ‘An egalitarian gaze: worker photography in inter-war Britain’

Johan Pries, ‘People’s houses and people’s parks as cultural and political space in the early Swedish labour movement’



Inside Gramsci’s Laboratory: Civil Society and Social Transformation

Francesca Antonini, ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will: political strategy and civil society in Gramsci’

Robert Jackson, ‘Civil society and “molecular” transformation’

Mark McNally, ‘Gramsci, the party and realist democratic strategy’







Panel Six:


Wars of Position  Now:

Karen Buckley, ‘Civil-society and twenty-first century transformations’

David Alderson, ‘Identity politics and the cultural politics of freedom’

Tobias Boos and Benjamin Opratko, ‘Populist unreason? hegemony, emotion and affect in left-wing populism’ 

Class, Party, State:

Mike Makin-Waite, ‘Democracy / alliances / class / strategy: six communist formulae’

Daniel Gerke, ‘The political third table: class and the new materialism’

Jörg Nowak, ‘Louis Althusser’s critique of the Communist Party and the question of the post-revolutionary state’

João Arsénio Nunes, ‘Wars of position and war of movement in the history of the Portuguese Communist Party, 1930-1975’



Chris Harris, ‘Three waves of black working-class organic intellectuals in the Twentieth and Twenty First Century’

John Narayan, ‘Huey Newton’s wars of position: survival pending revolution’

Daniel Egan, ‘Beyond “a grain of salt”: the military foundations of Gramsci’s war of position’

Ottokar Luban, ‘Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas on the process of realising a socialist society’ 








Tea and coffee


Keynote Three: Neil Faulkner


The project is led by Dr Ben Harker and will run for eighteen months.

For more information about the project's events and publications, please contact the Principal Investigator, Dr Ben Harker. A list of Dr Harker's publications on the subject is available on his University research profile.

For more information about the archive material, please contact the project archivist and administrator, James Darby: