A collection of E.P. Thompson’s essays written between 1955 and 1963, when he was beginning to formulate some of the key ideas of the New Left.
E.P. Thompson is a towering figure in the field of labour history, but he was also much more than a historian: he was a dedicated educator of workers, a brilliant polemicist, a skilled political theorist and a key figure in the formation of the New Left.
Many of the essays in this book are currently either out of print or difficult to obtain, but they were written during one of the most fertile periods of Thompson’s intellectual and political life - in the aftermath of 1956, as the Left was trying to find an alternative both to actual existing communism and the compromises of social demcoracy. Thompson is here struggling to open a space independent of official parties, opposing them with a vision of socialism built from the bottom up.
Cal Winslow provides context for the essays in a detailed introduction.
Introduction – Cal Winslow
‘Through the Smoke of Budapest’, Reasoner 1956
‘Socialist Humanism’, New Reasoner 1957
‘Socialism & the Intellectuals’, ULR 1957
‘Commitment in Politics’, ULR 1959
‘The New Left’, New Reasoner 1959
‘At the Point of Decay’, Out of Apathy 1960
‘Revolution’, Out of Apathy 1960
‘Revolution Again’, NLR 1960
‘The Long Revolution’ I & II, NLR 1961
‘Where are We Now?’ unpublished 1963
‘The Communism of William Morris’, Lecture 1959
‘Homage to Tom Maguire’, Essays in Labour History 1960
‘The Freeborn Englishman’, NLR 1962
‘This collection introduces the thought of an outstanding left historian who combined commitment with original and open-minded inquiry. Thompson’s brilliance and wit transformed the scope of working-class history internationally, documenting how the action of human beings had shaped the present. Equally engaged in the creation of new forms of left politics as a libertarian socialist, his writings are indispensable weapons for a new generation of activists struggling to reinvent radicalism.’
Sheila Rowbotham, author, Dreamers of a New Day
‘Through this timely, well-chosen collection of E.P. Thompson’s political and historical essays, Cal Winslow gives vital new life to one of the most creative radical thinkers and activists of the twentieth century.’
Marcus Rediker, author, The Amistad Rebellion
‘In an an age when equivocation has become the norm in political discourse, this superbly edited selection of E.P. Thompson’s greatest essays is a salutary reminder of what a public intellectual once was, and could and should be again. Edward Thompson was a man who took nothing on trust, and to whom ready-made opinions and glib soundbites were anathema. Here you will find him returning to first, impeccably radical principle, to reflect on the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (an event which caused him to leave the Communist Party), on the New Left of which he was a central figure, and on his beloved William Morris. In fact, his own words on Morris sum up Thompson himself rather well: “It is because William Morris, in imaginative and in day-to-day polemical writings alike, sought to body forth a vision of the actual social and personal relations, the values and attitudes consonant with a Society of Equals, that he remains the greatest moral initiator of Communism within our tradition.’
London Review Bookshop
‘This collection of essays could be regarded simply as having historical interest for the thinking of a key figure of the New Left. There is no question that it is that, but it is also much more. These essays were an attempt to engage with and guide a movement which had huge potential. Thompson’s approach to class, and his understanding of the dialectical tensions within which a revolutionary movement must be built, remain of tremendous value.’
Dominic Alexander, Counterfire
‘Cal Winslow’s thoughtful introduction to a selection of brilliant essays by Thompson summarises his quest for a new humanist socialist politics.’
Mike Davis, Chartist