Papers of Robin Page Arnot

Scope and Content

Correspondence and General Files

Arnot's voluminous correspondence spans the years 1917 to 1975, and there are series of general files containing material from 1896 to 1974. An important series of early letters are those dating from 1917-1918, which document Arnot's experiences during an 18 month period of imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs as a politically-motivated conscientious objector [U DAR/2/1-12]. The extensive list of individuals and organisations with which Arnot corresponded gives some indication of his wide-ranging political commitments and activism, which did not diminish until he was well over eighty years of age. Amongst Arnot's contacts on the Left were included G.D.H. Cole, Tom Mann, E.P. Thompson, Winifred Horrabin, Wal Hannington, Fenner Brockway and Eric Hobsbawm, as well as a number of trade unions and societies, such as the British - Soviet Friendship Society, the Shaw Society and the Society for the Study of Labour History [U DAR/2/49-54 & 1/49].

Diaries and Memoirs

Of particular historical value for the early decades of the twentieth century are the memoirs which Arnot began to compile in the late 1960s [U DAR(2)2/5-36]. Much more than personal reminiscences, these are records of key figures on the Left and defining events during the most politically formative period of Arnot's life. Beginning with the 1906 general election, the topics covered include the outbreak of the First World War, the railway strike in 1919, the foundation of the Communist Party, the situation in Russia in the early 1920s and the launch of Labour Monthly [U DAR(2)/2/12, 18, 26, 23, 33, 8, 15 & 24]. The political contributions of various individuals, such as Willie Gallacher and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, are also discussed [U DAR(2)/2/25 & 36].

The Official Histories of the Miners' Trade Unions

In terms of sheer scale, the papers are dominated by the work which Arnot undertook in writing the official history of the miners' trade unions in Britain. As well as the usual range of research notes, drafts, proofs and illustrations associated with such scholarship, Arnot acquired an extensive collection of original sources, the majority in printed form, from the trade unions within the scope of his study. This is of particular note in the case of the Scottish miners' unions- the records of the Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan Mineworkers' Association and its communist-inspired rival the Mineworkers' Reform Union of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan are an important, if incomplete, source for studying the relationship between the Communist Party and the trade union movement in the early 1920s [U DAR(2)/4/85-116 & 132-148]. An outstanding single item, the provenance of which is somewhat obscure, is a bound volume of transcripts of the radio bulletins issued by the British Broadcasting Company for the duration of the General Strike in May 1926 [U DAR(2)/3/38]. Other material relating to the General Strike includes typescript notes of a series of meetings which were held in November 1926 between the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the government, labelled as 'most secret', and a draft copy of the commentary on the strike by the General Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, A.J. Cook, entitled 'Nine days that shook British capitalism' [U DAR(2)/3/29-31 & 44]. Unfortunately Arnot's copy of the account of the proceedings of the Northumberland and Durham General Council and Joint Strike Committee, which documents his central role in the General Strike in the North East, has not survived, although there are typescript schedules listing the membership of the organisation [U DAR(2)/3/46]. Amongst the earliest trade union records collected by Arnot is a volume of printed annual reports of the Amalgamated Association of Miners of West Bromwich, which covers the years 1873 to 1887 [U DAR(2)/3/1]. However the majority of the material dates from the early to mid-twentieth century.

William Gallacher MP

Within the first deposit, a limited collection of papers by Willie Gallacher, the Communist Member of Parliament for West Fife from 1935 to 1950, are to be found. Included is his correspondence with Arnot and his wife Olive from 1945 to 1965 and draft extracts from various novels, poems and other writings which Gallacher composed primarily in the 1940s [U DAR/7/1 & 2-11]. Gallacher's political activities within the Communist movement are only indirectly covered by this material.

Communist Party of Great Britain

The early development of the Communist Party itself is covered by the material which Arnot assembled in the late 1950s in the process of working on a projected history of the party. Correspondence, minutes of meetings, biographical notes and various original records of the party are included - of particular note are those relating to the Communist Unity convention in July 1920, which formally established the Communist Party of Great Britain [U DAR/6/1]. In addition, the internal workings of the Communist Party are revealed by an incomplete series of congress documents for the years 1935, 1943, 1956, 1957 and 1961 which Arnot preserved amongst his papers. The records of the 25th Special Party Congress held in April 1957 are especially important, given that this congress constituted the first opportunity for the party as a whole to re-assess its position after the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising [U DAR(2)/10/25-42]. The material documents the process of revising the party programme, The British road to socialism, and includes the report of the Commission on Inner-Party Democracy [U DAR(2)/10/29-32 & 33]. However an indication of the impact of events in Hungary on the morale of the membership is revealed by the text of an undelivered speech by Peter Fryer, appealing against expulsion from the party for his condemnation of the Soviet invasion [U DAR(2)/10/40].

William Morris Society

The early development of the William Morris Society is covered in some depth, from the perspective of Arnot's involvement in events. A series of correspondence from the early 1950s between the various founder members discusses the form commemoration of William Morris should take, prior to the meeting at Red House in 1953 which informally established the Society [U DAR(2)/12/1-3]. In addition the formulation of the Society's rules and statement of aims is covered [U DAR(2)/12/4 & 5]. Of particular interest for the late 1950s is the material documenting the response of the Society to the withdrawal of an edition of Morris's writings from the Moscow Book Exhibition in 1959, on the spurious grounds that it made unfavourable comparisons between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany [U DAR(2)/12/83-87]. The work of the Exhibition Committee involved in organising the 1957 exhibition 'The typographical adventure of William Morris' is detailed in a number of reports, as is the Society's campaign against an Air Ministry proposal to site an aviation aid close to Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire [U DAR(2)/12/61-70 & 79-82].

Marx Memorial Library

A similar depth of coverage is provided by Arnot's papers relating to the establishment of the Marx Memorial Library and his role in developing the institution as a centre for Marxist education. As Principal, Arnot served on both the General Council and the Finance and General Purposes Committee and accumulated an incomplete series of minutes and agenda documenting this work [U DAR(2)/11/13-16 & 47-50]. In addition there are a number of reports received by the General Council discussing relations with the trade union and co-operative movements, and the development of educational work [U DAR(2)/11/43, 44 & 52-56]. By far the greatest proportion of the material comprises syllabuses and lecture notes of the courses held in the 1930s and 1940s by the Faculties of Political Economy and Science [U DAR(2)/11/73-115]. The subjects covered are extremely wide ranging, from the standard themes of socialism/communism, revolution and the Soviet Union, to the more unusual, such as heredity, the building industry, Chartism, women, youth and co-operation. Arnot himself acted as lecturer and tutor, pioneering the study of political economy [U DAR(2)/11/104-110].

Other Writings

Arnot was a prolific writer of articles, lectures and pamphlets - his papers contain the drafts of a number of these, mainly on the subject of trade unionism and the miners, and an extensive series of articles published in Labour Monthly from the 1930s to the 1970s [U DAR/6/8]. Of particular interest is the material gathered for a projected history of Labour Monthly in 1962 and the drafts of a series of articles on the history of the Labour Research Department from 1972 [U DAR/6/3 & 7].


Finally, of the miscellaneous items within the two deposits, the draft of S.H. Whitehouse's 'The world of labour: fifty biographical portraits of key labour leaders', dating from 1905 and including extensive press cuttings from the Reynolds newspaper, is noteworthy [U DAR(2)/13/17]. A small collection of family photographs, including Arnot himself, and a copy of the Pioneer song book 1844 - 1944 are also of interest [U DAR/11/63 & 11].

Administrative / Biographical History

Robin Page Arnot was born at Greenock on the Clyde on 15 December 1890, the grandson of a Chartist and son of John Arnot, a self-educated journalist who became editor of The Greenock Telegraph. Following elementary school and seven years at the Greenock Academy, Arnot received a scholarship to study in the Faculty of Arts at Glasgow University, specialising in Ancient Greek. Having already joined the Greenock branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1907, he became actively involved in socialist politics in Glasgow through the University Fabian Society and was instrumental in the establishment of the University Socialist Federation in 1912.

Arnot left Glasgow for London in the spring of 1914 to join the Fabian (later Labour) Research Department (LRD) as a researcher, the central subject under analysis being control of industry. Following the resignation of G.D.H. Cole, he was appointed Secretary, a post which he was to retain until 1927 (he remained on the Executive Committee of the Labour Research Department for over fifty years) and which brought him into close contact with members of the trade union and labour movements. Political divisions did not take long to emerge within the Labour Research Department between Collectivists and Guild Socialists. The latter counted Arnot, G.D.H. Cole and William Mellor as adherents and were influenced by the climate of industrial militancy in pre-war Britain.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Arnot's political convictions led him to resist military service - he was characteristic of many of his contemporaries on the Left in being a simultaneous member of the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He had also recently participated in the establishment of the National Guilds League. He attempted to evade conscription in May 1917 not as a pacifist, but as a revolutionary socialist. He was however eventually charged with refusal to obey military orders and sentenced to two years' hard labour [see U DAR/2/1-12 for Arnot's letters during his imprisonment]. Arnot married his first wife Leila Ward on 1 January 1916 and they had one daughter, Barbara. It was during and after the war that Arnot began to develop his specialist knowledge of the miners in Britain and the history of their trade unions. The miners' evidence to the Sankey Commission in 1919 was largely his work, summarised in the publication by the Labour Research Department of Facts from the Coal Commission (1919). Arnot also composed a number of articles under the nom de plume of Jack Cade during this period, dealing with various aspects of trade unionism [U DAR/1/12].

The Russian Revolution in November 1917 exerted a profoundly radical influence on Arnot's political development. He was nominated as a delegate of the grouping of Guild Socialists (recently renamed Guild Communists) to the founding conference of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1920, an event which took place above Cannon Street station in London [see U DAR/6/1]. It was soon after joining the Party that he was given the opportunity in 1921 to travel to Latvia, Estonia and the fledgling Russian Soviet state, attending the first congress of the Red International of Labour Unions in the Kremlin [see U DAR(2)/2/21, 27, 35 for Arnot's memoirs on this]. Arnot served on the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain between 1924 and 1938 and acted as a British representative to the Communist International (Comintern) throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

The 1920s were a period of intense political activity for Arnot. In 1920 he became director of the Labour Publishing Company Limited and a year later was instrumental in the establishment of the journal Labour Monthly, remaining on the editorial board thereafter and becoming Associate Editor in 1941. He also performed an editorial role for the Communist Party of Great Britain's publication the Daily Worker until the 1950s and in 1923-4 participated in the Communist Party of Great Britain's takeover of the Labour Research Department. In mid 1925, industrial relations began to deteriorate within the British coal industry, following the mine-owners' unilateral suspension of the national wages agreement with the miners. Arnot took a continuing interest in events, urging greater preparedness on the part of the miners and the wider trade union movement, to counteract the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS) set up by the government in September 1925. This official body anticipated a future general strike and was seen as a manifestation of 'legal fascism' by the CPGB. However the OMS was accompanied by the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the coal crisis, upon which the trade union movement set its hopes for a settlement. In October 1925, Arnot was imprisoned for a second time, following the arrest of the entire Communist Party of Great Britain executive under the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797 [see U DAR/2/13, 14 for Arnot's correspondence during his second period of imprisonment]. Arnot was released however, with six other members of the executive, the following April and was thus able to play an important role during the General Strike which finally broke out in May 1926. On 1 May, Arnot travelled to County Durham to address a May Day meeting in Chopwell and, perceiving the need to co-ordinate the strategy of the unions at a local level if the strike was to have any chance of success, he remained in Tyneside to draw up a plan of campaign with local trade unionists. The practical outcome was the formation of the Northumberland and Durham General Council and Joint Strike Committee, a body which attempted to mirror the official structure of the Civil Commissioner. Arnot sat on the General Council and Joint Strike Committee as a representative of the Labour Research Department and remained in Newcastle until 17 May 1926. His experiences formed the basis for the publication by the Labour Research Department of 'The General Strike, May 1926: its origin and history' (1926).

His departure from the secretaryship of the Labour Research Department in 1927 left him free to travel abroad on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain - of particular note during this period was his participation in the Comintern debates in Moscow in the late 1920s on the nature of and appropriate communist reaction to fascism. Alongside Harry Pollitt and R. Palme Dutt, Arnot subscribed to what later became the Comintern orthodoxy on the subject, namely the theory of 'class against class' and the labelling of social democratic parties as 'social fascists'. [Documentation of Arnot's work within the Communist International during this period has not survived.]

On his return to settle in London, he soon became active as a member of the Marx Commemoration Committee, formed on the initiative of the Labour Research Department to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Karl Marx's death in 1883 [see U DAR(2)/11/1-6, 159 for details of the establishment of the Marx Memorial Library]. The work of the committee led to the establishment of a Marxist Library and Workers' School and Education Centre, which opened its doors at 37A Clerkenwell Green on 30 October 1933. Known simply as the Marx Memorial Library, this institution was an attempt to counteract the recent burning of books in Germany (including works by Marx, Engels and Lenin), through education and the collection of Marxist-Leninist literature. Arnot was appointed as the first Principal of the Library, a post which combined the development and teaching of courses in Marxist political and economic theory and which principally occupied his time until 1947. It was during this period at the Library that Arnot married a second time, on 11 October 1935, to Olive Budden, a volunteer worker at the Labour Research Department in the early 1920s and fellow founder-member of the Communist Party.

Greeting Arnot on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday in 1950, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Harry Pollitt, described him as 'a fighter for the cause of socialism for over forty years, a tireless propagandist and one who has played a leading part in all the work and activity of our Party since its inception.' It was at this point in his life that Arnot retired from full-time work on Labour Monthly in order to pursue his occupation as an historian. Appointed as the official historian of the miners' trade unions in 1925 [see U DAR/3/1], he had already undertaken extensive research for what was to prove his life's great work, the five volume history of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) (Allen & Unwin, 1949-79). This was accompanied by more detailed studies of the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1955 and the South Wales Miners' Federation in 1967.

In the early 1950s Arnot became increasingly engaged in the debate surrounding the political legacy of William Morris, (the late-Victorian poet, craftsman and socialist). Within the Communist Party there was felt to be a need to rescue Morris from predominant myths about his political ideals and incorporate his particular vision of socialism into the Communist Party of Great Britain's propaganda. As an established authority on Morris, Arnot became a focus for such activity in London, speaking on the subject at Communist Party of Great Britain branches [see U DAR(2)/12/1] and publishing a series of previously unknown Morris letters to Reverend John Glasse in Labour Monthly. Arnot was however one of a number of Communists and others on the Left, (including Graeme Shankland, Stanley Morison and Andrew Rothstein), who considered that some more permanent form of commemoration of Morris was necessary. A meeting was consequently arranged [see U DAR(2)/12/3] for Arnot's correspondence leading up to the meeting] in October 1953 at Morris's former home, Red House, Bexleyheath in Kent to discuss future plans. The outcome was a decision to establish the William Morris Society, as a forum for the exchange of ideas and a means to spread knowledge of Morris's life and work more widely. Arnot acted as a committee member of the Society throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a role which allowed him a decisive influence on its early development. In terms of Arnot's writings, 1964 saw the completion of a longstanding project to revise his 1934 pamphlet William Morris, a vindication, with the publication of William Morris: the man and the myth, an extended commentary on both the Glass letters and Morris's letters to John Mahon.

In September 1956 the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain made a decision 'to proceed with the preparations for the publication of a history of the Party' [U DAR/6/1]. An Editing Commission was appointed to oversee the project, chaired by Harry Pollitt, and it was decided that Arnot should be responsible for writing the history. The project was however soon derailed by the pressure of Arnot's existing commitments as official historian of the miners' unions and lack of co-operation within the party. By mid 1957 the scope of the original plans had been scaled down to a series of articles, of which Arnot was to contribute a piece on the foundation of the party. The fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 1967 provided a diversion for Arnot from his research into the miners' history - he published two books in that year on the subject, namely 'A short history of the Russian Revolution' and 'The impact of the Russian Revolution in Britain'.

Although Arnot began the process of compiling his memoirs in 1968, it was a task too onerous for a man of 78 years of age and hence one which never progressed beyond the mid-1920s in scope [U DAR(2)/2/5-36]. The successive drafts and transcripts of taped reminiscences were never published. Arnot continued to be a committed member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until his death on 18 May 1986. Writing his obituary in the Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Professor John Saville characterised Arnot as 'a man who for some eighty years remained a socialist and whose ideas and ideals of his early years were still fresh and lively up to within about two years of his death...'.


U DAR/1 General files, 1896 - 1976

U DAR/2 Correspondence, 1917 - 1976

U DAR/3 'A History of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain' (1949- 1979), 1925 - 1976

U DAR/4 'A History of the Scottish Miners' (1955), 1919 - 1968

U DAR/5 'A History of the South Wales Miners' Federation' (1967), 1927 - 1973

U DAR/6 Writings and lectures, 1920 - 1974

U DAR/7 William Gallacher MP, 1920 - 1965

U DAR/8 German Democratic Republic, 1948 - 1974

U DAR/9 Press cuttings, 1930 - 1973

U DAR/10 Souvenirs, 1953 - 1974

U DAR/11 Miscellaneous, 1902 - 1978

U DAR2/1/1-14 General

U DAR2/1/15-23 Allen and Unwin Limited

U DAR2/1/24-25 Central Books Limited

U DAR2/1/26 China

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Modern political papers subject guide

Custodial History

Received in two instalments in 1978 and 1980, via Professor John Saville, Department of Economic and Social History, University of Hull

Related Material

Papers of Howard Hill, Communist [U DHH]

Archives of Communist Party of Great Britain, Hull branch [U DCP]

Other repositories:

Archives of Communist Party of Great Britain, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Peoples' History Museum [GB 0394]

South Wales Coalfield Collection, University of Wales: Swansea [GB 0217]

Gallacher Memorial Library, Glasgow Caledonian University Archives [GB 1847]


  • By Arnot:
  • With GDH Cole, Trade unionism on the railways: its history and problems (London; Labour Research Department, 1917)
  • The politics of oil: an example of imperialist monopoly (London; Labour Publishing Co., 1924)
  • The General Strike, May 1926: its origin and history (London; Labour Research Department, 1926)
  • Twenty years: the policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain from its foundation, July 31st 1920 (London; Lawrence & Wishart, 1940)
  • A history of the Miners Federation of Great Britain (5 vols.) (London; Allen & Unwin, 1949-79)
  • A history of the Scottish miners from earliest times (London; Allen & Unwin, 1955)
  • William Morris: the man and the myth (London; Lawrence & Wishart, 1964)
  • South Wales miners (London; Allen & Unwin, 1967)
  • The impact of the Russian Revolution in Britain (London; Lawrence & Wishart, 1967)
  • About Arnot:
  • Anthony Howe, '"The Past is Ours": The Political Usage of English History by the British Communist Party, and the Role of Dona Torr in the Creation of its Historians' Group, 1930-56' (PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2004)
  • Antony Howe, ‘Arnot, Robert Page (1890–1986)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 30 Nov 2006]
  • A Mason, The General Strike in the North East (Hull; University of Hull Publications, 1970)
  • John Saville, 'Obituary: Robin Page Arnot (1890-1986)', in Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, vol.51, no.3, 1986, pp1-4