Socialists, communists and trade unionists founded our Library in 1933. Their political lives were forged in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, just 15 years previously.
The ideas of Karl Marx inspired the October Revolution. A Marx Commemoration Committee sought to mark 50 years since the philosopher’s death, and decided on a Library and Workers’ School – the MML.
What better place to house this Library and School than 37a Clerkenwell Green? There, Lenin — leader of the revolution and architect of the Soviet Union — worked in 1902-3. He edited Iskra, “the spark,” for 13 months, sharing a small wood-panelled office with Harry Quelch, the editor of Twentieth Century Press.
Today visitors can still see the office with archive originals of the newspaper. A plaque hangs on the wall reading: “Lenin. Founder of the USSR — the first socialist state — edited “ISKRA” in this room 1902-3.”
The Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School is founding partner of the Russian Revolution Centenary Committee, jointly with the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies (SCRSS).
Our efforts culminate in the international conference at the TUC today. We will welcome speakers from across Britain and around the world to discuss Russian revolutionary history, politics and culture and relevance today.
For many in the mainstream media and other instititions, the centenary of the Russian Revolution has been an opportunity to deride the achievements of the revolution, undermine all associated progressive causes and reheat tired Cold War rhetoric.
Worse still it is being used to resurrect revisionist arguments equating communism with fascism. This is part of a political agenda which is seeing the dangerous rehabilitation of far-right nationalists and neonazi ideas in parts of Europe.
Our ambition is that this conference and associated events will provide more balance to assessments of the revolution. We will offer an alternative voice, one that recognises the revolution’s hard-won accomplishments, its transformative impact on the people of Russia and the shockwaves it sent around the world
That these events bring to life the transformative impact the revolution had on the people of Russia, and the shockwaves felt around the world. The conference sold out — there is a hunger for a more thorough appraisal of the revolution and its legacy.
The Russian Revolution Centenary Committee’s film festival ‘SPARK!’ showcases eight revolutionary films on Sundays at the Rio in Dalston and the Phoenix in East Finchley. Man with a Movie Camera (1929, dir: Dziga Vertov) will be shown at the Phoenix at 1pm on Sunday November 5. Strike (1925, dir. Sergei Eisenstein) will be shown at Rio Cinema on November 12 at 2pm.
The MML has produced three special publications on this 100-year anniversary. Our annual journal Theory & Struggle published by Liverpool University Press focuses on the impact of the revolution and includes articles from Andrew Murray, chief of staff at Unite, Professor David Lane, University of Cambridge and Dr Jane McDermid, University of Southampton.
Together with Manifesto Press and the SCRSS we have published The Woman Worker by NK Krupskaya. This is the first time this work, written in 1899 from exile in Siberia, has been translated into English. This is also Krupskaya’s first pamphlet and the first work written by a Marxist on the situation of women in Russia.
New research on the 1920 Councils of Action formed in opposition to British military intervention in Russia is presented in John Foster’s pamphlet The Councils of Action 1920 and the British Labour Movement’s defence of Soviet Russia.
It argues that the success of this action in halting a new war against the young Soviet Republic provided the precedent and rationale for the General Strike of 1926 and marked a high point in the post-war mobilisation of the British working class.
MML seeks to mobilise our unique archive and library — over 50,000 books and pamphlets and many more original documents — in pursuit of our educational objectives.
Our Heritage Lottery Funded exhibition The Russian Revolution 1917-1922 and its Impact on World War One and the British and European Labour Movement does just that.
Curator Professor Mary Davis has coordinated a UK-wide tour. Digitised archives and related archives can be found on the project website http://russianrevolution.marx-memorial-library.org.uk/.
But this work on the centenary is just a fraction of MML’s work in recent months. Record numbers have come through our doors for our lectures celebrating 150 years since the publication of Das Kapital. Unable to accommodate all attendees in our 65-person capacity hall, we have ensured Professor Ben Fine’s lecture on Marx’s economics was made available online.
In October Claudia Webbe, Islington councillor and Labour NEC member, chaired a tribute to Claudia Jones for Black History Month. Winston Pinder, friend and comrade of Jones recounted her pioneering work as founder of the West Indian Gazette. Letters and photos of Claudia Jones from MML collections were put on display.
Our Tolpuddle Martyrs exhibition project, making newly digitised contemporary newspapers available for the first time, has been shown at the TUC and Labour Party conferences. Launched by the Mayor of Islington and Adrian Weir from Unite, it will continue its tour to Salford, Coventry and Brighton into 2018.
We are working with Islington Schools to launch an after-school club in the new year, familiarising local school children with our history and archives.
This year and next — with the centenary of the Russian Revolution and the bicentenary of Karl Marx’s birth — herald a rejuvenation of the Marx Memorial Library. We look to harness new waves of interest in socialism and left politics, and bring our archives and education programme to wider audiences.
The regeneration of Clerkenwell Green by Islington is all set for 2019. Marx Memorial Library will be at the heart of this development. We have our own ambitious plans to improve our building, facilitate access, enhance visitor experience and provide more space for our growing collections and programmes of events and activities.