The Library holds a wide range of collections on individuals such as Wal Hannington, Phil Piratin, James Connolly, Noreen and Clive Branson and Helen Crawfurd, and organisations such as the British Soviet Friendship Society, the British Czechoslovak Friendship League and the China Campaign Committee.
In 1933, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, a delegate meeting comprising trade unionists, veteran socialists belonging to the Labour Party and Communist Party, and representatives of the Labour Research Department and Martin Lawrence Publishers Ltd., considered setting up a permanent memorial to him. The meeting was held at Conway Hall against the backdrop of the Nazi burning of the books in Germany. In these circumstances, delegates resolved that the most appropriate memorial to Marx would be a Library.
Given its place in London’s radical history, 37a Clerkenwell Green was considered the ideal premises. Thus the Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School was founded.
Study classes, held in the evenings, became the distinguishing feature of the Workers’ School, which was divided into faculties of science, history and political economy. Prominent speakers included J.D. Bernal, J.S. Haldane, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Tom Mann.
In 1934 Viscount Hastings, who had studied under the great Mexican artists Diego Rivera, executed a large fresco style mural on the wall of the first-floor reading room. Titled ‘The Worker of the Future Clearing away the Chaos of Capitalism’, it illustrates events and leading thinkers in the history of British Labour.
A Library of books, pamphlets, archives and posters grew over the years and was augmented significantly by the donation of the International Brigade Association archive in 1975, the Klugmann Collection in 1977, the Bernal Peace Library in 1994 and the archives of the print unions in 2009.
The Library expanded to occupy the whole building over the years. The premises achieved Grade II listed building status after the facade was restored in 1968-9 to the way it had originally looked in 1738. During further refurbishments in 1986, tunnels were discovered underneath the Library.
For over eighty years the Library has continued its work collecting published and archival material on the science of Marxism, trade unionism and the working class movement and making them available to through education courses.