Phil Griffiths ep thompson and the process of historical causation



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Phil Griffiths



EP Thompson
and the process of
historical causation



I wrote this essay in 1996


The "mature" political and historical career of EP Thompson began in 1956, when he launched a public, and at times bitter, struggle against Stalinism -- in politics, in Marxist theory and in history. "I commenced to reason in my thirty-third year," he wrote of that turning point.1 In politics, Thompson set out to construct a libertarian, humanist communism, and to involve himself in a series of struggles, most notably against the spread of nuclear weapons. In history and theory, he challenged the tendency of both Stalinism and bourgeois sociology to reify human relations,2 and fought to "restore to Marxism its commitment to the concrete struggles of actual men and women",3 as against the Stalinist tendency to treat people as the stupid instruments of the forces of production.

This project led Thompson to re-examine the process of historical causation. In his histories, he looked at and attempted to theorise the process by which the English working class was formed (and formed itself) as a class, and then went backwards to look at various aspects of the development of capitalism in the eighteenth century, and the plebeian resistance to it. In his theoretical writing Thompson began by rejecting Marx's metaphor of base and superstructure as "a bad and dangerous model, since Stalin used it not as an image of men changing in society, but as a mechanical model, operating semi-automatically and independently of conscious human agency."4 He launched his now famous polemics against Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn for their schematic approach to English history and their dismissal of the radical traditions of the English working class, and against the anti-humanist structuralism of their erstwhile intellectual mentor, Louis Althusser.5 For much of his career, Thompson wrote as a Marxist and a revolutionary opponent of capitalism. Anderson, Nairn and some other Marxists responded to the effect that Thompson's theory and his histories were "culturalist", anti-theoretical, built around a subjective redefinition of categories such as class, and voluntarist.6

This essay will focus on the issues of historical causation, and, in particular, on Thompson's treatment of class struggle and class, on the role of experience, on his treatment of economic structures and consciousness and on his critique of base and superstructure. It will also assess some of the major points made by his Marxist (and other) critics.
For Thompson, history was the history of class struggle, and the class struggle in its various forms has been overwhelmingly the subject of his histories.7 Society changed because class struggle took place and changed it -- not always for the better. The theme running through The Making of the English Working Class is the way a distinctively working class movement, built upon organisations of mutual aid and with a new and distinctive class consciousness, emerged from political and economic struggles between 1790 and 1832. The essays making up Customs in Common look at the growing polarisation between patricians and plebs, the fights over enclosure of the common lands, the attempts to enforce the imperatives of the commercial grain market against those who insisted on feeding the local community in times of dearth, and the gradual imposition of a time-conscious work discipline on rural labourers and factory workers.

These class struggles are driven in considerable part by conflicting material interest. In searching for the reasons behind the sudden declaration of fifty new capital offences in England in 1723, Thompson finds an eruption of "class war" in the forests of East Berkshire and Hampshire. He therefore begins Whigs and Hunters by teasing out the rival claims for the use of forest resources between the declining gentry and yeoman class of the long-established forest communities, and the newly rich landowners and lords (temporal and ecclesiastical) who asserted their right to graze their deer unimpeded in "their" forests. Also involved was a struggle over the legal and ideological bases of economic life as "non-monetary use rights were being reified into capitalist property rights"8. The long tradition of communal access to the forests, regulated by local forest courts referring to use-rights going back "time out of mind", was being overturned by those who benefited from the new commercial approach that saw property (including the forest) as private, to be ruthlessly used in personal self-advancement. This was an attitude shared by the new-rich landowners and the forest officials they appointed, who set out to monopolise the forest for themselves. Whatever errors or problems may emerge in such a history, it is not "culturalist".9

The significance of this method is that it really does put human beings at the centre of "making history". Social development is shaped by the outcome of these struggles, and this is never predetermined. Instead, the result of any conflict is influenced by a range of factors: the economic "weight" and political strength of the rival classes, their internal solidarity, the cohesion provided by commonly held ideas, the strength of their leadership and their ability to make common cause with other classes or elements in society -- or alternatively the degree to which they are internally divided, enervated by traditions of deference, badly led or isolated.

For Thompson, the history of actual class struggles can neither be unravelled nor understood without concrete analysis, and attempts to short-circuit this "end up by explaining nothing."10 Thus we find him insisting that "every real historical situation" arises "from a particular equilibrium of forces,"11 and that concrete analysis of the various competing forces, and the particular equilibrium of forces at key moments, play a major role in his histories.

Using Whigs and Hunters, we can see this at many levels. A localised rebellion gave rise to a turning point in English law because the king's deer were involved, because a new Prime Minister was eager to consolidate his power, because the authority of the government was undermined at a moment when it had become tenuous as a result of the collapse of the South Sea Bubble. Thompson also speculates -- no more -- that it was the collapse of the bubble that had impoverished many of the forest gentry and made desperate their struggle to defend traditional usages. On another plane, the "Black Act" crystallised the prior development of a "Whig state of mind" that saw defence of property as the highest duty of the state, to the point where human life itself had been severely devalued. So when the immediate crisis in the forests passed, the Act was entrenched in English law, its already wide scope extended. At another level again, the skilful politician Walpole used and/or manufactured Jacobite conspiracies with links to the Blacks to bind Parliament and the ruling class more firmly behind his new laws.12 Thus a turning point in legal history arose from both the prior development of capitalist relations, and the particular conjunction of economic and political circumstances and the way people fought out their rival claims. This "victory" for England's capitalists became an element in shaping the future, as it was then used for another hundred years to terrorise those who lacked sufficient respect for property.13

However, a focus on class struggle by itself is not enough to ensure that the making of history is understood as the work of "men" (to paraphrase Marx). The combination of Weberian sociology, Second International Marxism and Stalinism had transformed class into a static sociological structure into which people were duly slotted according to occupation, which then obediently produced (in the "Marxist" variant) class struggle. The efforts of ordinary men and women to understand and change their world are written out of such an approach. Thompson set out to write them back in; indeed to put them at the centre of our understanding of class and class struggle.

He did this in his masterpiece, The Making of the English Working Class. He began with a short, but very pointed polemic against those who saw class as a "thing", a static "structure", defined by relations of production, arguing instead that class could only really be understood as a relationship between people that becomes apparent to them over time as they find themselves engaged in struggle alongside other people with whom they begin to feel, and then understand, an identity of interests as against others.

The making of the English working class involved, for Thompson, the transformation of a disparate layer of wage earning artisans and labourers, who identified predominantly with their separate trades and the struggle against the landed interest, into a class, singular, involving widespread identification of a common class interest, in open conflict with its symbiotic rival -- the class of (especially manufacturing) employers -- and the government. There are, in fact, a number of transformations or "makings" involved here. There are new forms of class struggle -- the strike, trade union, and radical press which tend to replace the "food riot" and other plebeian mass actions. There is a profound ideological shift, from the radical constitutionalism of the 1790s, the retreat into Methodism, and then Owenism and quasi socialist political economy. Dramatically changed too are class alignments, the methods and scale of production, economic relations, the size and nature of the new factory labour force, and finally the depth of class divisions. A modest revolutionary current centred on London artisans in the 1790s is transformed, by 1830, through repression, exploitation and struggle, into a widespread determination across the broad working class to overthrow the existing order. Much of Thompson's book is aimed at explaining and documenting the growth in revolutionary temper of the English working class.

The overall transformation of class relations was only in modest part a product of changed methods of production and changed economic relations. One of the central arguments of The Making of the English Working Class is the role played by the growing rapprochement between the landed gentry and manufacturers after the hostilities of 1792, when many manufacturers supported the reform agitation. These two classes were pushed together by their mutual "counter-revolutionary panic" in the face of the French revolution and its English echoes, and, Thompson argues, this in turn expressed itself in every aspect of social life. The Combination Acts of 1799-1800 repressed both Jacobin conspiracies and trade union attempts to raise wages, further cementing the ruling class alliance and the alienation of working people from both their economic and political rulers. Napoleon's self-installation as emperor saw former Jacobin-baiters appealing to English Jacobins to support the new war against France as lovers of liberty.14

The repeal of most paternalist legislation, one of the main hegemonic mechanisms of gentry "leadership", allowed free rein to the employers, and again profoundly alienated wide layers of the working class. Thompson sees the class struggles of Luddism as one of the results.15 And the challenge of Luddism, the inability of the magistrates and armed forces to penetrate and destroy Luddism, and the successful armed defence of the Rawfolds factory by the mill owner, further illustrated their mutual dependence and cemented a growing partnership. "But what brought emotional reconciliation to the properties classes brought profounder antagonism between them and the working classes."16

The old means of resistance, for example, the defence of traditional use rights and customary prices, the petitioning of parliament, had become anachronistic. Trade unionism was the one working class response which survived and flourished because in the environment of the factory and workplace community it was just possible to sustain and protect illegal unions whereas insurrectionary conspiracies culminated in the disastrous Pentridge rising of 1817. Friendly societies also emerged "in response to certain common experiences,"17 and in turn stimulated trade unionism. In trade union politics, William Sewell sees a dual transformation. Collectivism was generalised from narrow individual trade union solidarity to all workers; while in the radical republican tradition, which had established roots amongst London artisans in the 1790s, the central role of private property was challenged in favour of collective aims. The result was a view of political rights being due to those who laboured, rather than those who owned property. These new ideas proved to be "remarkably durable".18 The English working class was in considerable part made by, and in response to, the united ruling class offensive it faced.
A critical element in Thompson's account, and in all his history, is the part played by human experience. He rejected the idea that social being determined consciousness as mechanical and false, and instead posed a more mediated -- though still materially based -- relationship.

"Changes take place within social being, which give rise to changed experience: and this experience is determining, in the sense that it exerts pressures upon existent social consciousness, proposes new questions... [it] walks in without knocking at the door, and announces deaths, crises of subsistence, trench warfare, unemployment, inflation, genocide. People starve: their survivors think in new ways about the market. People are imprisoned: in prison they meditate in new ways about the law. In the face of such general experiences old conceptual systems may crumble and new problematics insist upon their presence."19

As straightforward as it is, I see Thompson's conceptualisation of experience as a vital theoretical contribution in understanding history and in particular, the formation of class consciousness.20 While the historical writing of Marx and Engels was always subtle and concrete, the way they summarised the relationship between social being and consciousness was often crude or incomplete: "determines", "corresponds to", "ultimately determining". However, experience of the relations of production is continuous (not just ultimately present), its impact on consciousness ongoing. But it is not a predetermined or mechanical impact. A specific form of exploitation does not automatically lead to a predetermined class consciousness. The working class is neither automatically revolutionary as a result of its position, nor, as the Anderson/Nairn thesis would have it, a helpless victim of the ideological dominance of its ruling class. "No ideology is wholly absorbed by its adherents: it breaks down in practice in a thousand ways under the criticism of impulse and of experience," Thompson observed.21 At the same time, he vigorously rejected the notion that consciousness is independent of economics, posing the dialogue between social being and social consciousness as central to the historical process.22

Of all Thompson's propositions, this is the one that has probably been most controversial -- even amongst some who are sympathetic to him. Critics most commonly see Thompson collapsing both relations of production and actual consciousness into "experience". It is forced to explain too much and its erstwhile mediating role is lost.23 I feel this is mistaken. Thompson may emphasise the experience of work and exploitation, of dealing with employers and merchants, but keeps distinct the real relations that generate the experience, for instance in his description of the reasons for child labour in the textile mills, in descriptions of the forms of labour in cottage industry and also in his discussion of the way gluts were created to break the weavers' resistance to price variation. Thompson also clearly distinguishes between experience and consciousness (which I take to mean deliberate thought, theory and other ideas). In discussing Methodism, he points out that the experience of workplace, friendly society and trade union solidarity invaded the chapel, that is, affected workers' religious ideas. There are many other such examples.

Perry Anderson argues that Thompson assumes that experience leads to actual (ie correct) knowledge, yet Thompson repeatedly points to the limits of experience -- not only the farmers and sailors dealing mystified by kingship,24 but the Methodism of the repressed English working class, and the way outworkers and artisans persisted with petitioning Parliament in spite of their's and others' experiences. Anderson also argues that experience is implicitly presented as the causal mechanism of history as a result of Thompson comparing it to Mendel's genetics.25 Anderson has read too much into a grandiose comparison; Thompson rejected and ridiculed the idea of there being a causal mechanism or "motor" to history.26

Thompson's account of the weavers illustrates the way he combines a changed economic environment, consciousness, experience and class struggle to explain the destruction of a traditional artisan culture and the eventual development of a distinctive working class. These cottage industry artisans initially benefited from the industrial revolution as more and cheaper yarn led to a massive expansion in weaving. But this expansion soon saw them lose economic independence to the great clothiers who came to employ them, and who used this expansion to cut wages. This in turn drove each weaver to increase their own production, leading in turn to more savage wage cutting. The weavers fought this in the terms of their existing organisations and traditions. They petitioned parliament to legislate minimum wages, and its refusal led them responded with a massive strike, which was brutally suppressed. Among employers, magistrates and clergy, the conviction grew that poverty was essential to make people work hard -- and the experience of impoverishing the weavers may well have confirmed something which began as prejudice.

Faced with a transformed industry and repression, their traditional craft unionism, with its emphasis on controlling the standards, prices, customs and even personnel of the trade, collapsed. The destruction of their industry by the power loom, from 1820, was the final step. Desperate poverty combined with the experience of parliamentary hostility and bloody repression to turn them from Church and King loyalism to machine breaking, mobilisation at Peterloo, Owenism and physical force Chartism. From proud participants in a narrow craft, they became an important part of a wider class with a common agenda for change and elements of a common consciousness.

And of course there were others who were beginning to think and act in class ways, and one of the most important reasons was the existence and growth of an often illegal, radical press. The class struggle for a free press, free of taxes that make newspapers unaffordable to working men and women, is one of the most heroic episodes in the making of the English working class. I have discussed Thompson's emphasis on common experience in the formation of class, but it was the radical press that made England's labourers aware that they shared a common situation with so many others. This is magnificently highlighted in Thompson's short essay on William Cobbett's journalism.27

Cobbett's writing was very different from that of the essayist Hazlitt, or the popular theorist Paine. His style was intimate, personal, immediate and concrete. Over more than two decades, his political articles appealed to experiences common to England's labourers to make his points and to show in concrete terms that each individual's situation was shared by others. His "extraordinary sureness of instinct...disclosed the real nature of changing relationships of production," Thompson wrote.28 The "touchstone of his social criticism was the condition of the labouring man," a profoundly radical outlook, which, could lead, Thompson argues, "close to revolutionary conclusions."29 His writing "led outwards from the evidence of his senses to his general conclusions," an approach that was later to become a more conscious part of the revolutionary tradition. When Lenin discussed the Bolsheviks’ new newspaper Pravda in 1912, he observed that the many reports, written by workers themselves, about their lives, the abuses they faced, their opinions and how they were organising, were the raw material of experience from which wider political conclusions could be drawn.30

Alongside Cobbett there were a series of papers, writers and groups seeking "to render into theory the twin experiences...of the Industrial Revolution, and...popular Radicalism insurgent and in defeat."31 There were intense debates over Bentham, Malthus and Robert Owen, all educating a dispersed layer of working class activists who would help create the class consciousness and organise the struggles that would make "the working class presence...the most significant factor in British political life" in 1832. "The experiences of the previous quarter-century had prepared men's minds for what they now could read."32

After writing The Making of the English Working Class, Thompson went backwards to study class relations in the eighteenth century: the nature of the part customary, part market economy, the struggles to defend it from deeper commercialisation, and the culture of the working classes. Most significantly, he presented these struggles as he had earlier presented Luddism, as rational and thought-out, not as the mindless conservatism of the ignorant. He was studying (and writing about) the class struggles that were ultimately to produce the decisive shifts of the 1790s.

He presents eighteenth century England as a society in which money has become of primary importance in economics and in political power, while for large numbers of lower gentry, yeomen, farming tenants and poor labourers, residual common use rights and community traditions remained of major importance, in their survival and their cultural life. The attack on these rights and the enclosure of the commons met sustained resistance, and obliged "agricultural improvers" to develop an ideology to justify their theft: property no longer implied social obligations, but increasingly gave absolute rights to the possessor; the commons were "a hindrance to Industry, and...Nurseries of Idleness and Insolence".33 "Custom Law and Common Right" describes some of the resistance (as indeed does Whigs and Hunters) from those poorer villagers who found their rights expropriated. Thompson sees in the prolonged process of enclosure, stretching well over a century, a measure of the tenacity (and also the localism) of that struggle. The law shifted its focus from the protection of the person to protecting property. The divisions between the classes grew.

The same process -- the (bourgeois) class struggle against paternalism and to impose commodification -- was seen in food, as the marketing and consumption of grain was gradually separated from the community in which it had been grown. In "The Moral Economy of the Crowd", Thompson describes this tension coming to a head in times of dearth, when villages expected "their" grain to be available to feed them. He poses the organised food riot, when a community mobilised to use its force of numbers to impose an affordable price, as one of the characteristic forms of class struggle through the century.

In "Patricians and Plebs", he describes the changing relationship between labourer and employer, as the old system of paternalist control over the whole life of the labourer was eroded. Marx wrote of the bourgeoisie putting "an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations", leaving behind nothing more than a cash relationship.34 In "Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism", he addresses the process by which employers of labour attempted to gain more production from employees. Work shifted from being task oriented to time oriented. The most interesting aspect in some ways, is the description of employers experimenting with different forms of hire -- day labour, by the hour -- until they came up with the most profitable mix.

In all these essays, and in Whigs and Hunters as well, Thompson is studying the transition to capitalism. As he so brilliantly reminds us, the people he writes about did not see themselves as "transitional to anything". They were incrementally changing and adapting: the law, relations with the labourers, the market system, property, even ideas of what was morally right. Thompson brings out the extent to which these changes were fought over. "The death of the old moral economy of provision was as long-drawn-out as the death of paternalist intervention in industry and trade," he wrote.35 The relations of production of capitalism did not spring to life out of the steam engine or the mill; they were created gradually because they were resisted bitterly, and had to be fought for and imposed.
Nevertheless, for all its excitement and explanatory power, there is a problem with Thompson's narrative of class struggle. While each individual episode is meticulously analysed, we never find out why the differences involved between the classes cannot be settled by a greater measure of compromise, why the employers feel the need to push things so far, why the government feels confident it can engage in brutal repression. The economic imperatives facing the English working class are meticulously examined; not so the economic strengths of, or pressures facing, their employers, landowners and merchants.36 This flies in the face of Thompson's insistence on the mutuality of class. Why do Walpole and the Whigs face so little ruling class opposition to the (presumably) substantial risk of passing the "Black Act"? Why do they prosecute the enclosures so slowly (is it really simply a matter of local popular resistance?), while the tearing up of minimum wages is done abruptly? Were there not economic as well as "political" reasons for the gradual rapprochement between manufacturers and the landowners and government which began in the 1790s -- and which so decisively shaped the circumstances in which the working class was "made"?

We are inevitably drawn back to the question of base and superstructure. For if this essay has proven anything, I hope it has established that Thompson is a materialist, that ideas and laws and politics are profoundly influenced by economic change, that too much has been read -- in the manner of Richard Johnson -- into his famous comment that "class is a cultural as much as an economic formation."37 It is also clear that the issue is not the "mechanical model" of superstructure trailing behind base, because that is not part of Marx's argument, and Thompson knows Marx understood the immense impact of ideas and laws on economics.38 and because Thompson himself is capable of qualifiedly agreeing with Marx and Engels on a point where their thought has been corrupted. Yet he still rejects base and superstructure. As Perry Anderson points out, in his 200 page critique of Althusser, Thompson simply passes over without comment Marx's central point: the central role of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production in the development of history, in generating the class struggle and economic (and social) crisis.39

Thompson's only attempt at an alternative to base and superstructure, based around the interplay of congruities, contradictions and involuntary change, merely echoes much of Marx's own theory, but without its most powerful elements: the independent impact of rising productivity on class relations, the inherent contradiction within each mode of production that creates pressures towards fundamental social breakdown, and the understanding that the role of the superstructure is to contain antagonistic relations of exploitation using non-economic means -- stabilising society at some points, but creating an entirely new set of explosive tensions and reasons for class struggle at points of crisis. Ironically, Thompson's own histories brilliantly illustrate key aspects of this "ignored" theory.

This brings to mind Thompson's surprising (and brief) rejection of Capital as "an alternative lawed structure of economic relations."40 It is nothing of the sort; it is an attempt to identify the dynamic of capitalism (in capital accumulation under the pressure of competition) and its internal contradictions. Right throughout the work, commodity-relations develop and change -- right through into the final discussions of Volume 3, where the impact of joint-stock companies and professional managers is discussed. And while the tendency of the rate of profit to decline is asserted as the fundamental obstacle to and endless future history of capital accumulation, Marx also discusses the counter-tendencies -- not surprisingly since it was his method to dig out the contradictions inherent in every phenomenon. Yet Thompson sees Marx's analysis as "necessarily...anti-historical, since the actual history can only be seen as the expression of ulterior laws."41 William Sewell argues that Thompson conceives of structures "in reified supra-human terms," and for that reason, avoids them. It is a convincing speculation.

The result is not "culturalism" but a certain tendency to vagueness and fragmentation. David McNally notes the imprecision of Thompson's critique of Stalinism as a "parasitism", an approach he had criticised in Cobbett as reducing economic analysis to a polemic against vested interests.42 Anderson, Sewell and others have noted the "lack of definite coordinates" in the Making of the English Working Class. He is vague, too, about the nature of ruling class appropriation in Whigs and Hunters when he declares that it was "not clear what these [Whig] fortunes of thousands per annum rest upon".43 Even Bryan Palmer finds one discussion of "exploitation" an "evasion".44 It is his failure to engage with the (changing) economic structure of production that makes "Patricians and Plebs" one of his vaguer and less satisfactory articles.

Thompson's stance also leads to a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to historical materialism itself. So much of Thompson's polemic is directed against structuralism that he never gives us more than a truncated picture of what he actually sees as the relationship between the economic and "cultural". The result in The Making of the English Working Class, argues Sewell, is that he assumes economic determinism "as a kind of unconscious rhetorical backdrop against which specific empirical accounts of working-class experience, agency and consciousness are placed," and that economic developments provide "a kind of hidden dynamo [that] propels the narrative in a certain direction."45 Ironically the result is to make the economic changes appear "given", inevitable, perhaps even natural, to in a sense reify them -- the opposite of Thompson's intention. The flip side of his refusal to "privilege" economics can be seen in Whigs and Hunters where we find him embracing the rule of law as "a cultural achievement of universal significance" and "an unqualified human good."46 This comes at the end of his book, in a final, abstractly argued, "theoretical" essay, which manages to contradict the evidence of the previous 238 pages. Instead of reifying the forces of production, he reifies the law. As a response to Stalinism it is understandable, but others have managed to avoid it.


EP Thompson has achieved a rare impact on the way people study and think about history and historical change. He set out to show that the exploited and oppressed were makers of history through the class struggles they waged. By insisting on the need for concrete analysis of social forces, he underlined that nothing in history was inevitable, and that human society was created out of class struggle. In doing so, challenged the view that capitalism was developed peacefully in its homeland and showed that the most fundamental of economic relations were themselves experimented with, and resisted, and made by people and over a long period of time. Wage labour and the alienation of what workers produce may seem "normal" in western societies today; they did not in England in the eighteenth century. By focusing on experience he developed "an ability to reveal the logic of production relations...as an operative principle visible in the daily transactions of social life."47

Thompson's rejection of Marx's base and superstructure metaphor and his minimal attempts to study the economic situation and strength of England's ruling classes, deprived his histories of an even greater measure of coherence. We can only speculate as to the real reasons for his position, but it does not make his histories culturalist, populist, atheoretical or subjectivist, as Tom Nairn would have us believe.48 He is much closer to Marx and Engels than his critics, and we can only benefit from studying him.




Bibliography

Anderson, Perry, Arguments within English Marxism, Verso, London, 1980

Dobb, Maurice, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, George Routledge & Sons, London, 1946

Donnelly, FK, "Ideology and early English working-class history: Edward Thompson and his critics" in Social History, No 2, pp. 219-238

Johnson, Richard, "Edward Thompson, Eugene Genovese, and Socialist-Humanist History" in History Workshop, No 6, Autumn 1978, pp. 79-100

Kaye, Harvey J, The British Marxist Historians: An Introductory Analysis, Polity Press, London, 1984

Lenin, VI, "The Workers and Pravda" in Collected Works, Volume 18, April 1912-March 1913, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1963

McClelland, Keith, "Some comments on Richard Johnson, 'Edward Thompson, Eugene Genovese, and Socialist-Humanist History'" in History Workshop, No 7, pp. 101-115

McLennan, Gregor, "E. P. Thompson and the discipline of historical context" in Richard Johnson, Gregor McLennan, Bill Schwarz, David Sutton (eds), Making Histories: Studies in history-writing and politics, Hutchinson, London, 1982, pp. 96-130

McNally, David, "EP Thompson: class struggle and historical materialism" in International Socialism (London), No 61, Winter 1993, pp. 75-89

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed and intro by Lewis S. Feuer, Collins, New York, 1969

Nairn, Tom, "The English Working Class" in New Left Review, pp. 43-57

Palmer, Bryan D, The Making of E. P. Thompson: Marxism, Humanism, and History, New Hogtown Press, Toronto, 1981

Sewell, William H, Jr, "How Classes are Made: Critical Reflections on E.P. Thompson's Theory of Working-class Formation" in Harvey J Kaye, and Keith McClelland (eds), E P Thompson: Critical Perspectives, Polity Press, London, 1990, pp. 50-77

Thompson, EP, "The Crime of Anonymity" in Douglas Hay, peter Linebaugh, John G Rule, EP Thompson, Cal Winslow, Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, Allen Lane, London, 1975, pp. 255-344

Thompson, EP, "Eighteenth-century English society: class struggle without class?", Social History (London), Vol 3, No 2, May 1978, pp. 133-165

Thompson, EP, "The Long Revolution" in New Left Review, No 9, pp. 24-33, No 10, pp. 34-39, No 11, p. ??

Thompson, EP, "Patrician Society, Plebeian Culture" in Journal of Social History, pp. 382-405

Thompson, EP, Customs in Common, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993

Thompson, EP, Making History, Writings on History and Culture, The New Press, New York, 1994

Thompson, EP, The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968

Thompson, EP, Out of Apathy, Stevens & Sons, London, 1960

Thompson, EP, The Poverty of Theory and other essays, Merlin Press, London, 1978

Thompson, EP, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1990

Thompson, EP, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, revised edition Pantheon Books, New York, 1976

Thompson, EP, Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law, paperback edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994

Wood, Ellen Meiksins, "Falling Through the Cracks: E.P. Thompson and the Debate on Base and Superstructure: in Harvey J Kaye, and Keith McClelland (eds), E P Thompson: Critical Perspectives, Polity Press, London, 1990, pp. 125-152

Wood, Ellen Meiksins, "The Politics of Theory and the Concept of Class: E.P. Thompson and His Critics" in Studies in Political Economy: a socialist review, No 9, Fall 1982, pp. 45-75




1 Thompson, EP, The Poverty of Theory and other essays, Merlin Press, London, 1978, p. 1 (PT)

2 PT, p. 271

3 David McNally, "E P Thompson: class struggle and historical materialism" in International Socialism (London), No 61, Winter 1993, p 76. (McNally)

4 Quoted in Harvey Kaye, The British Marxist Historians: An Introductory Analysis, Polity Press, London, 1984, p 172 (BMH)

5 These were "The Peculiarities of the English" and "The Poverty of Theory", both published in PT

6 Tom Nairn quoted in Wood, Ellen Meiksins, "The Politics of Theory and the Concept of Class: E.P. Thompson and His Critics" in Studies in Political Economy: a socialist review, No 9, Fall 1982, p. 46 (Wood, Class)

7 This is also the theme of Harvey Kaye's analysis, see BMH, p. 173

8 Thompson, EP, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1990, p. 244 (Whigs)

9 The criticism of culturalism is rejected by, among others, Keith McClelland, William Sewell, Ellen Meiksens Wood, Harvey Kaye and Bryan Palmer

10 EP Thompson, “The Peculiarities of the English” in PT, p. 48 (Peculiarities)

11 Peculiarities, p. 45, “Patricians and Plebs” in Thompson, EP, Customs in Common, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993, p. 93 (Customs)

12 This analysis is spelled out in the Chapter, "The Politics of the Black Act", Whigs, pp. 190-218. See also the brief discussion of "causation" on p. 214.

13 Whigs, pp. 245, 255

14 Thompson, EP, The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968, pp. 495-6 (MEWC)

15 MEWC, pp. 600-01

16 MEWC, pp. 613-4

17 MEWC, p. 462

18 Sewell, William H, Jr, "How Classes are Made: Critical Reflections on E.P. Thompson's Theory of Working-class Formation" in Harvey J Kaye, and Keith McClelland (eds), E P Thompson: Critical Perspectives, Polity Press, London, 1990, pp. 70-71

19 PT, pp 200-01

20 See Wood, Class, pp. 62, 58

21 MEWC, p. 431

22 For example, criticising Althusser for ignoring it, PT, p. 201. See also PT, pp. 224-5, and Peculiarities, p. 79 where he describes "dialectical intercourse between social being and social consciousness" as being "at the heart of any comprehension of the historical process within the Marxist tradition."

23 Sewell, p. 60 Anderson and Johnson make similar points; Wood disagrees, see Class, p. 58

24 Thompson's example, PT, p. 199

25 Anderson, Perry, Arguments within English Marxism, Verso, London, 1980, pp. 25-27, 28-29, 79-83 (Arguments)

26 PT, pp. 295-300

27 MEWC, pp. 820-37

28 MEWC, p. 834

29 MEWC, p. 835-6

30 Lenin, VI, "The Workers and Pravda" in Collected Works, Volume 18, April 1912-March 1913, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1963, p. 300

31 MEWC, p. 781

32 MEWC, p. 806

33 Quoted in Customs, p. 165

34 In the Communist Manifesto, see Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed and intro by Lewis S. Feuer, Collins, New York, 1969, p. 51 (Feuer)

35 Customs, p. 253

36 This point is in part made by Ellen Meiksins Wood, "Falling Through the Cracks: E.P. Thompson and the Debate on Base and Superstructure: in Harvey J Kaye, and Keith McClelland (eds), E P Thompson: Critical Perspectives, Polity Press, London, 1990, pp. 125-152, p. 136 (Base and Superstructure)

37 Johnson's criticism runs right through "Socialist-Humanist History", the comment is in MEWC, p. 13

38 See BMH, p. 172. Also Engels comment that the form taken by class struggle is often determined by superstructural elements, Feuer, p. 437.

39 Arguments, p. 81

40 PT, p. 250. The discussion runs pp. 249-55

41 PT, p. 253. This is an extraordinary assertion given Marx's insistence (in, for example Wages, Prices and Profits), that the value of labour power is determined by a traditional standard of life, and the distinction Marx and Engels had of being amongst the few early socialists to support trade unionism, as, amongst other things, a means of raising wages.

42 McNally, p. 85

43 Whigs, p. 245.

44 Palmer, p. 124, footnote 4. The article is Thompson, EP, "Eighteenth-century English society: class struggle without class?", Social History (London), Vol 3, No 2, May 1978, pp. 133-165

45 Sewell, p. 57. Wood makes a similar point, Base and Superstructure, p. 135

46 Whigs, pp. 265, 266

47 Wood, Base and Superstructure, p. 142

48 Quoted in Wood, Class, p. 46



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