Saturday, 3 December 2011

An open letter to the Director of the People's History Museum, Manchester

Dear Katy Archer,

We, participants in the workshop on the Luddites' 200th Anniversary at the Manchester and Salford Anarchist Bookfair, wish to protest about the People's History Museum’s (PHM) exclusion of the Luddites from its scheme of working class history. Not only does the museum have no plans to celebrate this important anniversary, but the Luddites are absent from the timeline of 19th-century working-class history in the lobby, and from the Museum’s permanent exhibitions.

This exclusion of the Luddites is absolutely unacceptable, and we cannot believe that it is accidental. In our view it is no better than Stalin's removal of Trotsky from early group photographs of the Russian Communist Party. It is absolutely contrary to any museum's duty to present an unbiased historical narrative.

We would guess that the reason for this is that the PHM shares the popular and outdated misconception of the Luddites as ‘reactionary’, as well as somehow not ‘really’ being part of the organised working class, despite the efforts of Marxist historians like EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm to situate the Luddites firmly within working class and trade union history. We agree with EP Thompson's view that the Luddites were a crucial stage in the formation of the English working class, and we are inspired by their example of workers and communities rising up against oppression. We believe that the Luddites' example and philosophy are increasingly relevant in the current crisis of industrial capitalism. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this issue, it is not the job of the PHM to pass judgement and then pretend that a major historical movement for workers’ rights never happened.

For this reason we have taken the opportunity to correct the timeline in the lobby, and we demand that you do so on a permanent basis. We also insist that the museum create a section in its permanent exhibitions devoted to the Luddites. Finally, we ask you to organise events over the next few months to commemorate the anniversary; we will be happy to work with you on this.


David King (Luddites200 Organising Forum)
Richard Holland (

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