Exhibiting politics

There are currently two exhibitions in Manchester which are of interest to Socialists (and both have a couple of months more to run).

The Whitworth Art Gallery is showing some of the items in its newly-acquired Walter Crane Archive. Crane (1845-1915) was a well-known designer and illustrator and was for some years one of William Morris’s comrades in the Socialist League and the Hammersmith Socialist Society. In addition to work for children’s books and so on, he produced a great many designs for political organisations and publications, and many readers will be familiar with his work, though perhaps without realising it. A good website with examples of his work and links to other sites is www.wcml.org.uk/wcrane/crane.html.

Unfortunately, the Whitworth exhibition has rather little on the political side of Crane’s work. There is a none too subtle drawing of a fat capitalist figure on a horse, with Death seated behind him, riding through a landscape of skulls. And from shortly before his death is a nasty piece of anti-German propaganda illustrating the German army’s mistreatment of women and children – by this time he had long ceased to be a Socialist, having gone over to the Fabians in 1892.

Meanwhile the People’s History Museum is hosting a special exhibition “Reds: The Story of the Communist Party of Great Britain”. This does have some interesting old posters, pamphlets and photos, but it’s presented in far too uncritical a way. For instance, the CP’s twists and turns in the Second World War are downplayed. While a reference is included to the number of members who left after the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, there is nothing on the CP’s divisions on (and official opposition to) the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. While it may be understandable that the exhibition organisers feel that terms like “apartheid” and “Soviet Russia” have to be explained to some visitors nowadays, there can be no excuse for glossing Communism as “The political belief that the state should control the means of producing everything and that there should be no private property”.

The CP’s subservience to Moscow is never seriously confronted, though many visitors will draw their own conclusions from the displayed front page headline of the Daily Worker for 6 March 1953: ‘Stalin, the Architect of Socialism, is Dead’. But essentially, “Reds” is a whitewash.

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