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.

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.


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: