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The Russian revolution of November 1917 – or October according to the calendar it inherited from the tsars – was the world’s first successful workers’ revolution and an inspiration to socialists everywhere. Established in the midst of Europe’s most senseless and destructive war, the new Soviet state met with concerted resistance from within and without its borders and drew on campaigns of international solidarity as part of a world-wide movement against capitalism and colonial rule. Nevertheless, when seventy-four years later the Soviet state collapsed, there was no significant movement to defend it either nationally or internationally.

It was a communist romance. In 1923, Croatian American communist Steve Nelson (born Stjepan Mesarsoš) met Margaret Yeager, the daugh-ter of ‘radical’ German immigrants, at the Communist Party office in Pittsburgh. As Nelson recalled in his 1981 memoir, ‘everything happened’ very quickly, and the two married the same year. Both understood that Yeager, the ‘better educated’ and ‘more sophisticated’ of the two, would not accept a ‘passive role’ in the relationship. Indeed her mother gave the nineteen-year-old bridegroom a copy of August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism as a wedding gift. Nonetheless, they soon took on stereotypical roles. He became an important activist, while she ‘tailor[ed] her life to what was required of me’. Recognising that an outsider might ‘conclude … that Maggie accepted a traditional female role because she shared the accepted view of a “woman’s place” at the time’, Nelson assured his readers that she did not: ‘As a revolutionary she consciously gave me all the breaks, feeling this would be best for the movement’. Thus a self-consciously revolution-ary union produced a paradoxically traditional marriage.

In 2014, we edited a collection of essays under the title Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press). Our objective was really twofold. First, to generate discussion on the British left in general; to bring together scholars and writers in order to present a ‘way in’ to current thinking on the history of the British left. The context of the book’s gestation was telling: the idea began in the wake of the 2010 general election and the fall of New Labour.

The History Workshop movement, a grassroots coalition of radical-academic, feminist, and labour historians founded at Ruskin College in the late 1960s under the guidance of Raphael Samuel, represents a powerful example of the fusion of political commitment with historical practice. However, outside of a handful of general commentaries, the history of the Workshop remains mostly unexplored. This article focuses on two central pillars of the Workshop’s programme, the annual workshop gatherings held at Ruskin and the History Workshop Journal, in order to examine how its socialist (and feminist) political aspirations were translated into democratic and radical historical forms. It argues that this connection between politics and history should not be simply understood in theoretical or ideological terms, but should also encompass the symbolic, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of historical practice. While critical attention is paid to the tensions and limits of the Workshop’s project, the article suggests that it was precisely in the effort to negotiate the contradictions inherent in its own ideals that the relevance and productive use of the case of History Workshop endures.

This article charts the history of widespread illegal ‘blacklisting’ of active trade unionists and socialists working in the UK construction industry. Blacklisting had long been a practice by employers in the construction industry, but it was escalated after the rise of the more militant rank-and-file shop stewards’ movement in the 1960s. The consequences of these events are followed through to the present day.

This forty-seventh issue of Socialist History is the first with our new publisher, Lawrence and Wishart. An occasion like this is a good opportunity to look back at the history of this journal’s parent organisation, the Socialist History Society, and of its more famous predecessor, the Communist Party Historians’ (later: History) Group (CPHG).