London library about working class history

This video is about the Marx Memorial Library in London, England.

By Meirian Jump in England:

Workers’ library shows knowledge is power

Thursday 26th February 2015

MEIRIAN JUMP describes her dream role as an archivist at the Marx Memorial Library – a unique labour history resource

THREE action-packed months as archivist at the Marx Memorial Library (MML) have sped past. One of the highlights was answering a knock on the door from an Argentinian whose great grandfather spoke at meetings of the London Patriotic Society on the same site in the 1870s.

I also chaired a meeting with Joyce Sheppard of Women Against Pit Closures as part of our series of classes on the anniversary of the 1984-5 miners’ strike.

And just this week I received the original 1938 British Battalion banner on long-term loan from the International Brigade Memorial Trust. It will soon be displayed in our main hall.

The library is a very special place with a history rooted in Clerkenwell’s radical tradition. It was there, at 37a Clerkenwell Green, that the International Working Men’s Association met. It was also where Twentieth Century Press printed Marx and Engels’s classic works and where Lenin worked in exile 1902-3 — visitors can still see his office.

The library was founded in 1933, on the 50th anniversary of Marx’s death, by a group of British socialists and trade unionists. Ever since, it has collected, published and archived material on Marxism, the working-class movement and trade unionism, making it available through education programmes and facilitating publication and research projects.

Eighty years on, the library is imbued with the same proud history and sense of place. There is also a new energy about Marx House. With the twin goals of fulfilling its self-proclaimed role as a workers’ school and of reaching out to new audiences, the MML has a number of exciting projects underway.

Next month the library will open its doors for special twice-weekly tours of the building. This will be an opportunity for visitors to go “behind the scenes” with trained guides and view our displays, both old and new. The William Morris Hammersmith Socialist Society banner, embroidered by the Morris family and recently returned from display at the National Portrait Gallery, can be seen alongside a newly acquired series of dynamic Communist Party equality campaign posters from the early 1970s.

Every year trade unionists, workers, students, pensioners and activists gather at Clerkenwell Green for the May Day demonstrations. This year the MML and the Morning Star will jointly host an open day, inviting people into the library to view a display of photographs of May Day events throughout history.

Many of these evocative images, showing banner-waving, cap-wearing crowds from the 1940s and 1950s, originally appeared in the Daily Worker. This sense of history will, I hope, give context to the continued relevance of this festival of international solidarity.

Education has been at the core of the MML’s operation for decades. The library’s archives testify to the continuity and adaptability of its work in this field.

Syllabuses from the 1940s still resonate today, including those for classes on “women in industry,” examining unequal pay and childcare provision; and the “economics of capitalism,” highlighting the ever-evolving nature of capitalism and its propensity for crisis.

While courses on Marxist political economy were previously accessible through correspondence, students can now sign up to online courses on the same subject — see our website for further details.

The unique archival collections at the library are being mobilised in new ways. Building on the success of exhibitions like the News International Wapping Dispute display, the library is delving into its archives, including the printers’ collection, and looking ahead. A team of volunteers are assisting in the cataloguing of previously unsorted collections, soon to be listed as part of the catalogue on our website.

Next year will see the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. Work is already underway to ensure that the library’s International Brigade archive is catalogued in full with digital images in time for a series of launch events. This forms part of a broader programme of digitisation taking place at the library with newly acquired reprographic equipment.

It was this archive — the Spanish collection — that first brought me to Marx House almost 10 years ago. My grandfather, Jimmy Jump, was an International Brigader. His experiences, and those of my grandmother Cayetana Lozano Diaz, who fled Spain as a refugee from the civil war, inspired me to study the Aid Spain movement as an undergraduate.

I sat at the back of the MML’s reading room leafing through Daily Worker reports on grassroots support for the Spanish Republic. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Meirian Jump is archivist and library development officer for the Marx Memorial Library. We need your support to continue with this ambitious programme of work. Donations can be made to the Marx Memorial Library’s Development Fund, here.

2 thoughts on “London library about working class history

  1. Pingback: London library about working class history | The Socialist

  2. Pingback: Feminist Sylvia Pankhurst’s statue in London | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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