Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant
The pageant was organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Place: Royal Albert Hall (Kensington) (Kensington, Middlesex, England)
Number of performances: 1
30 March 1948
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Van Gyseghem, Andre
- Music Arranged by: Alan Bush
- Costumes: D. and J. Benjamin
- Producer: Reggie Smith
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Reggie Smith
- Andre Van Gyseghem
- Randall Swingler
- Montagu Slater
- Alan Bush
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Slater, Montagu
Names of composers
- Bush, Alan
- Boughton, Rutland
- Darnton, Christian
- Gundry, Inglis
- Cardew, Phillip
- Arnold, Malcolm
- Bowman, Aubrey
- Stevens, Bernard
- Purcell, Henry
- Sahnow, Will
- MacColum, Joe
- Van Gyseghem, Andre Van
- Lisle, Rouget de
- Knipper, Lev
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasionCentenary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated eventsExhibition of Life and Work of Karl Marx at Marx House, Clerkenwell Green, EC1 (30 March–11 April 1948).
Episode I. A Feudal Court
Entry of a prince and his retainers, followed by…
Episode II. Overthrow of Feudal Power
The bourgeoisie, in the shape of a Puritan-like figure, seizes the upper hand. The prince is executed, and his retainers symbolically hand over their gay feudal robes, leaving the stage in possession of the black-robed figure and his accountant. The commercialisation of the world has begun.
Episode III. Industrial Revolution
This episode deals with the rise of the proletariat who ‘live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital’. The dancers mime a forge, the beginning of industrial unrest, unemployment, and economic slumps.
Episode IV. War
Death directs well-known figures of the First World War. This is followed by the triumph of the Russian Revolution (‘Hands off Russia, the “Jolly George”’).
Episode V. Rise of Fascism
Now Mussolini, Hitler and, for the second time, Zaharoff (the armaments king) appear before the figure of Death.
Episode VI. Triumph of Socialism
Victory for Socialism in the Soviet Union, the New Democracies of Eastern Europe, China, etc., and the spread of Socialism throughout the world.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Hitler, Adolf (1889-1945) politician and dictator
- Mussolini, Benito (1883-1945) politician and dictator
Musical productionThe London Communist Choir, the Birmingham Clarion Singers and The London Communist Choir were accompanied by a military-style band, conducted by Alan Bush. Supporting instrumentation included a piccolo, three clarinets, a bassoon, two horns, three trumpets, three trombones, a timpani, percussion, a harp, two violins, three cellos and double-bass.
- Purcell. ‘Lilliburlero’.
- ‘Go Down Moses’, arr. Will Sahnow.
- Rutland Boughton. ‘The Rain It Raineth’.
- ‘March of the Workers’, to ‘John Brown’s Body’, words by Morris.
- Aturov. ‘Partisan Song’, arr. A.V. Alexandrov, words by Alymov.
- Rouget de Lisle. ‘La Marseillaise’, words by Rouget de Lisle, trans. Nancy Bush.
- L. Knipper. ‘Cavalry of the Steppes’, words by Gusser.
- ‘The Red Flag’, arr. Alan Bush, words by Jim Connell.
- ‘The Internationale’, arr. Alan Bush, words by E. Pottier.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant. Official Programme. Watford, 1948.
References in secondary literature
- Craggs, Stewart R. Alan Bush: A Source Book. Aldershot, 2007. At 69.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Heirs to the Pageant: Mass Spectacle and the Popular Front’. In A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, edited by Andy Croft, 48–67. London, 1998.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘The Popular Front Pageant: Its Emergence and Decline’. New Theatre Quarterly 11, no. 41 (1995), 17–32.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Warwick Modern Records Centre: Copy of programme. MSS/202/CP/107/4.
- Alan Bush Collection, British Library. MSS Mus. 411-413, and others
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Marx, Karl. Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto was the first full statement of the aims of the working-class movement and of its mission—to be ‘the grave-digger of capitalism’…History has already confirmed the conclusions reached by Marx and Engels. Thirty year ago, the Russian working class fulfilled its mission, and set up the first Socialist State in the world. Today, more and more countries are entering on the road to Socialism, more and more countries are throwing off their foreign imperialist exploiters. In this struggle, the working class and all who are concerned to find the way out from all the difficulties of a decaying social order will find renewed inspiration from the message of the Communist Manifesto.2
So began the introduction to the programme of the pageant celebrating the centenary of arguably the most important book—and certainly one of the most controversial books—in the world. Almost immediately after the end of World War II, mutual suspicion between the Soviet Union and the West increased further. As a result of the brutal communist takeover of much of Eastern and Central Europe and the events which were to lead to the Berlin Blockade which ran from June 1948 to May 1949, communism was viewed once again as the most significant menace to the free world. Under the chairmanship of Harold Laski (who himself had been accused by Churchill and the Beaverbrook press of being a communist patsy), the Labour Party had itself printed a mass edition of the Communist Manifesto earlier in 1948 as an attempt to claim the legacy of moderate Marxist thought. The Manchester Guardian noted that ‘the idea was an interesting one, though whether the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels has ever had a decisive influence on the growth of the British Labour movement seems distinctly arguable’.3 At any rate, Laski’s initiative was a calculated affront to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), which had quickly shifted after 1945 from a position supporting the limited social revolution of the Labour Party to one critical of it as being little more than a capitalist stooge. The CPGB was at its peak in membership, at just under 50000, with two MPs in Parliament and at least half a dozen ‘fellow travellers’ within the Labour Party who were communists in all but name.4 In fact, after a number of stern warnings over their disloyalty regarding foreign policy and other matters, four of these MPs would be expelled from the Labour Party in 1949.5
As Mick Wallis has suggested, pageants were an important political tool for left-wing movements during the 1930s.6 While the Popular Front Pageant of Labour, held in London in 1934, had been a significant failure, this did not dissuade other groups from holding their own pageants (albeit on a smaller scale). The Communist Party-led March of History was held in Liverpool in 1937, and there were a number of other socialist pageants in industrial cities in the later 1930s.7 Other pageants, includin Towards Tomorrow, held at Wembley Stadium in 1938, as well as the extremely well-attended Pageant of Chartism (1939), involved Communist Party members and fellow travellers whose own views of history were celebrated in pageant-form.8 Combining history, music and drama with a strong political message, pageantry, it seems, was an obvious choice for the CPGB.
Thus it was that the Party sought to use a pageant to mark the centenary of the Communist Manifesto. Indeed, it was hoped that the combination of theatrical propaganda with songs and speeches would raise the profile of the Communist Party and attract new members. A group of communist intellectuals, led by Montagu Slater (author of the libretto for Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes ), worked together to dramatize Marx’s great work. Despite the fact that the Communist Manifesto was primarily just that – a political manifesto, supported by economic arguments – Slater and his team produced a historical narrative loosely based on its message, extrapolating Marx’s narrative forward in time to bring the action through to the present and the rise and defeat of fascism. As the foreword to the pageant explained: ‘The Pageant that follows is a dramatized version of the Communist Manifesto. The story, told for the most part in the words of Marx and Engels, traces very briefly the development of working-class history from feudal times to the present day, with its triumphs for Socialism in Russia and the new democracies of Europe.’9
The music for the pageant was arranged and choreographed by Alan Bush, a veteran of many Communist Party pageants. Bush’s initial idea was to include a large number of prominent composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland and Malcolm Arnold, although, as he noted, ‘some of the aforementioned composers will only compose for us, if at all, if their names do not appear’, adding that ‘it might be a good stunt to advertise the music as having been written by “eight British composers”, come and spot your favourite style’.10 In the event, the pageant included music by over a dozen British composers.
Preparations for the pageant did not escape the attention of the security services. In the context of increasing Cold War tension, MI5 had in fact begun to take extensive notes on prominent communists; when news of the pageant reached them, their agents expended many man-hours determining that the Albert Hall event was not a threat to national security. These efforts extended to undercover work: it is likely that at least one of the members of the ‘Albert Hall Subcommittee of the Communist Manifesto Centenary Sub-Committee’ was a spy.11
The pageant was evidently a success. George MacDougal, one CPGB member who attended the pageant, remembered that the Albert Hall ‘was absolutely packed’, and recalled the event as ‘a very great meeting that… enthused me enormously’.12 But if such recollections suggest that the pageant was an expression of comradely togetherness, behind the scenes it was a different story. The CPGB had always mistrusted intellectuals, and was at this time in the process of restricting the freedoms of expression granted to them—the so-called ‘Battle of Ideas’. This conflict would see many of the Party’s prominent writers including Jack Lindsay, Edgell Rickword and indeed Montagu Slater himself being effectively forced into silence, with the Communist Party Writers’ Group lapsing by the early 1950s under the increasing weight of the Party’s Cultural Secretary, Emile Burns.13 Despite the proposal of the Communist Party Historians’ Group for a tercentenary commemoration of the 1649 English Revolution, none was carried out. It is true that the CPGB would go on to hold other pageants in future years. Examples included Thirty Years: A Non-Costume Pageant of Communist Party History (Empress Hall, 4 September 1950), and Randall Swingler’s Truth on the March (Harringay Arena, 18 February 1951; in commemoration of the twenty-first anniversary of the Daily Worker newspaper). These events, however, were decidedly small-scale, and it was surely telling that a mooted pageant to celebrate thirty years of the Communist Party of Great Britain never took place.14
- ‘Montagu Slater’, Graham Stevenson, accessed 28 April 2016, http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1179:slater-montagu&catid=19:s&Itemid=120.
- Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant (Watford, 1948), 1.
- Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1948, 4.
- Andrew Thorpe, ‘The Membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920–1945’, Historical Journal 43, no. 3 (2000): 777–800.
- Kenneth Morgan, Labour in Power, 1945–51 (Oxford, 1984), 238.
- Mick Wallis, ‘The Popular Front Pageant: Its Emergence and Decline’, New Theatre Quarterly 11, no. 41 (1995).
- Charles Hobday, Edgell Rickword: Poet at War (Manchester, 1989), 209–210.
- Wallis, ‘Popular Front Pageant’, 23–25.
- Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant, 2.
- In ‘Pageant Treasures of the British Library #1: The Communist Manifesto Centenary Pageant of 1948’, accessed 28 April 2016, http://historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/pageant-treasures-british-library-1/.
- ‘Reggie Smith’, Graham Stevenson, accessed 11 May 2016, http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=807:reggie-smith&catid=19:s&Itemid=120; Andy Croft, ‘A Man of Communist Appearance: Randall Swingler and MI5’, accessed 28 April 2016, http://andy-croft.co.uk/appearance.php.
- George MacDougal, in Voices of Scottish Journalists: Recollections of 22 Scottish Journalists of Their Life and Work, ed. Ian MacDougal (Edinburgh, 2013), np.
- Andy Croft, ‘Writers, the Communist Party and the Battle of Ideas, 1945–1950’, Socialist History 5 (1995), 2–25.
- Wallis, ‘Popular Front Pageant’, 30–31.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1342/