E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays and Polemics

E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays and Polemics

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 1583674438

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

E. P. Thompson is a towering fi gure in the fi eld of labor history, best known for his monumental and path-breaking work, The Making of the English Working Class. But as this collection shows, Thompson was much more than a historian: he was a dedicated educator of workers, a brilliant polemicist, a skilled political theorist, and a tireless agitator for peace, against nuclear weapons, and for a rebirth of the socialist project.
The essays in this book, many of which are either out-of-print or diffi cult to obtain, were written between 1955 and 1963 during one of the most fertile periods of Thompson’s intellectual and political life, when he wrote his two great works, The Making of the English Working Class and William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. They reveal Thompson’s insistence on the vitality of a humanistic and democratic socialism along with the value of utopian thinking in radical politics. Throughout, Thompson struggles to open a space independent of offi cial Communist Parties and reformist Social Democratic Parties, opposing them with a vision of socialism built from the bottom up. Editor Cal Winslow, who studied with Thompson, provides context for the essays in a detailed introduction and reminds us why this eloquent and inspiring voice remains so relevant to us today.

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is that of Jude entering into his inheritance on behalf of his own people. The dangers besetting the middle-class socialist intellectual are well enough known. But he may, nevertheless, in joining the socialist movement experience more sense of intellectual crisis, of breaking with a pattern of values: there is still a rivulet of fire to be crossed. For this reason his tendency is towards intellectual sectarianism, or—as Hardy noted in Sue—the sudden relapse into former patterns of response. But

oppressive features of the new society. Moreover, it is evident that British socialists who see men who claim “Marxism” as their guide, banner, and “science” perpetrating vile crimes against their own comrades and gigantic injustices against many thousands of their fellow men, will assume—and have assumed—that the ideas of Marx and Engels are useless or even dangerous, that they leave out of account essential points, that they give a false view of “human nature,” and that, although Marxism may

assassination, dissemination of “wrong information,” bad faith—signs that you also would follow the same pattern? Like old Lear in the storm, humanity regards the leaders of world communism and cries out: “Is there any cause in nature that breeds these hard hearts?” Stalinism is incapable of giving any answers to these questions. The Stalinist apologist simply throws his hands across his eyes and refuses to recognise their existence. Thus George Matthews: “For Marxists every political decision

not in disgrace) would involve arguing the case for socialism from first principles. But if this is granted, then we have a clue to the understanding of why intellectuals in Britain today feel themselves to be impotent, treasuring intellectual liberty but in a social void. In the Thirties (despite follies and illusions) this circuit was open. Points of contact existed in the Left Book Clubs, the Communist Party, the Unity Theatres, the International Brigade, journals like New Writing and Left

students and their forebears—the weavers, spinners, miners, the Luddites, Chartists, and utopians. Thompson taught in a score of towns and villages, including Cleckheaton, “one of Gradgrind’s fortresses,”50 a textile town in the Spen Valley, best known now as a setting for Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and for its history of Luddite risings. He taught in Shepley, a village in Kirklees that was home to four woolen mills in the nineteenth century and a place where Joseph Radcliffe from Milmsbridge

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