E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left

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

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left
    Book Description:

    E. P. Thompson is a towering figure in the field 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.andnbsp;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.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-456-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 6-7)
  4. INTRODUCTION Edward Thompson and the Making of the New Left
    (pp. 9-35)

    If many of the Yorkshire young people had in fact got socialism ‘inside of them,’ then something of its quality—the hostility to Grundyism,¹ the warm espousal of sexual equality, the rich internationalism—owed much to Tom Maguire.”

    The late Edward Thompson paid special tribute to only a few individuals. Tom Maguire was one. Maguire was a young Leeds socialist (1865–1895); he was a member of the Socialist League and a founder of the Yorkshire Independent Labour Party (ILP). Thompson immortalized him in his 1960 essay “Homage to Tom Maguire,” reprinted in this book.

    Maguire personified the tradition of...

  5. Through the Smoke of Budapest
    (pp. 37-47)

    Stalinism has sown the wind, and now the whirlwind centres on Hungary. As I write the smoke is still rising above Budapest.

    It is true that dollars have also been sown in this embittered soil. But the crop which is rising will surely not turn out to be the one which Mr. Dulles expected—some new Syngman Rhee for Eastern Europe, backed by a fraudulent Chancellory and a Papal Junta?

    By an angry twist of history, it seems that the crop is coming up as students,’ workers’ and soldiers’ councils, as “anti-Soviet” Soviets.

    I do not know how things will...

  6. Socialist Humanism An Epistle to the Philistines
    (pp. 49-87)

    Our island is one of the very few provinces of Europe which has not in this century suffered from civil or international war upon its own soil; and which has escaped the consequences—gas chambers, “quisling” regimes, partisan movements, terror and counter-terror—which have coloured the outlook of whole nations, East and West. It is very easy for us to fall into insular, parochial attitudes, and therefore necessary that we should commence any discussion of the future of socialism by reminding ourselves of some of the larger facts of our time. For two hundred years the pace of technological and...

  7. Socialism and the Intellectuals
    (pp. 89-101)

    The aftermath of resignation from the Communist Party is not the best time for writing articles. Silence would be more comfortable. For nearly a year I have found myself caught in the cross-fire of a divided world. In the last, not very genial, months of my Party membership, the positions which I was defending (and which others are still defending within the Communist Party) were under fire as “liberal,” “idealist,” “abstract,” and so on. The fire which any Communist intellectual draws from the other side is well-known. It is because this predicament is of more than personal significance that I...

  8. Commitment in Politics
    (pp. 103-117)

    By “politics” I do not of course refer to that annex to the Hall of Fame, filled with self-important TV personalities and Inside People, which Mr. R. H. S. Crossman finds so “charming.” Nor do I mean the heady atmosphere of closet-factions which has bedeviled the British Left for so long. The distaste which we feel for all that is a measure of our maturity before the responsibilities which “that old bitch gone in the teeth, a botched civilisation” has seen fit to dump upon our shoulders. If restraining the life-negating and lunatic propensities of capitalist society is a necessary...

  9. The New Left
    (pp. 119-135)

    I am really sorry to see my countrymen trouble themselves about politics,” wrote William Blake in 1810. “House of Commons and Houses of Lords appear to me to be Fools; they seem to me to be something Else besides Human Life.” And yet on the next page of his notebook he was denouncing “the wretched State of Political Science, which is the Science of Sciences.”

    We share his dilemma today. Against the vast back-cloth of nuclear promise and nuclear threat, the old political routines have lost their meaning. Mr. Macmillan’s business with the fur hat: Mr. Gaitskell, sharing the platform...

  10. At the Point of Decay
    (pp. 137-145)

    It is often said that the original “dynamic” of the socialist movement derived from the “politics of hunger.” Now that extreme want and mass unemployment are things of the past, socialists should dilute their policies in an effort to adjust to the mood of the electorate; or they should look around for another dynamic.

    It is true that absolute standards of welfare have risen (making the politics of absolute hunger irrelevant). What is false is the suggestion that the elimination of extreme want has ever been, for socialists, a sufficient end in itself. Rather, this end has been shared with...

  11. Revolution
    (pp. 147-159)

    At every point the way out of apathy leads us outside the conventions within which our life is confined.

    It is because the conventions themselves are being called in question, and not the tactical manoeuvring which takes place within them, that the gulf which is opening between the young socialist generation and traditional Labour politicians is so deep.

    It is a gulf as deep as that which opened in the 1880s between the Lib-Lab politicians and the new unionists and socialists. “Mr. Gaitskell, if he read it, would certainly not obtain a clear idea of what, in detail, he was...

  12. Revolution Again! or Shut Your Ears and Run
    (pp. 161-185)

    The word “revolution” is like a bell which makes some salivate approval or disapproval according to the conditioned response. After looking at the title of the last chapter ofOut of Apathysome said: “Revolution: Apocalyptic, Marxist pipedream, opiate of the intellectuals, nostalgia for Chartism, utopian rhetoric, etc.” Others said: “Revolution? I go for that—down with the lot, Bomb, Establishment, mass media, Shell building and all—roll on the day!”

    In the published discussion (as well as in readers’ letters and Club meetings) many interesting lines have been followed up. But for most readers it is clear that this...

  13. The Long Revolution
    (pp. 187-213)

    Raymond Williams’ new book,The Long Revolution(Chatto & Windus), develops the important themes ofCulture and Society—the study of the theory of culture, and an analysis of the stage reached in the development of a “common culture.”

    Within two months of the publication ofThe Long Revolutionthe reception of the book is so well assured that I am released from the usual inhibitions upon a socialist reviewer—the need to repair the hostility of the general press. I have no need to insist upon the importance of Raymond Williams’ achievement. Even a brief passage of his writing...

  14. Where Are We Now?
    (pp. 215-247)

    At the last Board I made a number of criticisms of the tone, etc., of the review. In subsequent discussion it has seemed possible that a more general theoretical critique might be of some value. Since the differences between the Team and some members of the old Board now appear to be substantial—and might indeed result in the disengagement of some of the latter from the review—it would falsify the spirit of our last seven years of work if no attempt at a theoretical confrontation was made. But while I have discussed many of the points below with...

  15. The Communism of William Morris
    (pp. 249-261)

    When I received an invitation to lecture to this Society I thought that the occasion might provide me with an opportunity to do two things which will, I hope, be not only of personal interest. First, I wish to look back at my own book on Morris (William Morris, Romantic to Revolutionary:Lawrence & Wishart, 1955) and to comment on a few matters of detail arising since its publication. Second, to review—in a much wider sense—the assessment of Morris’ Communism in that book.

    One cannot live for seven years in William Morris’ company without becoming intensely absorbed, not...

  16. Homage to Tom Maguire
    (pp. 263-289)

    As the writing of labour history becomes more professionalised, so the centre of interest shift s from front-line engagements to the disputes and strategical plans of GHQ. In the Colindale Library, the Public Record Office, the national archives of trade unions, the Place or Webb Collections, the techniques proper to a constitutional or economic historian can be employed. The dubious reminiscences of local worthies can be disregarded (unless required for “colour”), the regional skirmishes can be dismissed with an irritable footnote, and the historian can get down in earnest to national minute-books, Congress proceedings, intrigues among the leadership, and underhand...

  17. The Free-born Englishman
    (pp. 291-306)

    When reform agitation resumed in 1816, it was not possible, either in London or in the industrial North or Midlands, to employ a “Church and King” mob to terrorise the Radicals. From time to time, between 1815 and 1850, Radicals, Owenites, or Chartists complained of the apathy of the people. But—if we leave out of account the usual election tumults—it is generally true that reformers were shielded by the support of working-class communities. At election times in the large towns, the open vote by show of hands on the “hustings” which preceded the poll usually went over-whelmingly for...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 307-322)
  19. Index
    (pp. 323-333)