Arguments Within English Marxism
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226 pages / January 1980 / 9780860917274
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January 2016 / 9781784787936
“A very elegant restatement of the undogmatic essence of Marx.”—New Statesman
The characteristic form taken by English Marxism since the war has been the study of history. No writer exemplifies its achievements better than Edward Thompson, whose Making of the English Working Class is probably the most influential single work of historical scholarship by a socialist today. An editor of The New Reasoner in 1957–59, a founder of the New Left in 1960, now an eloquent champion of civil rights, Thompson has most recently aroused widespread interest with the appearance of his Poverty of Theory, which combines philosophical and political polemic with Louis Althusser, and powerful advocacy of the historian’s craft. Arguments Within English Marxism is an assessment of its central theses that relates them to Thompson’s major historical writings themselves. Thus the role of human agency—the part of the conscious choice and active will—in history is discussed through consideration of its treatment in The Making of the English Working Class. The problems of base and superstructure in historical materialism, and of affiliation to values in the past, are reviewed in the light of Whigs and Hunters. The claims of utopian imagination are illustrated from the findings of William Morris. Questions of socialist strategy are broached in part through the articles now collected in Writing by Candlelight. Exploring at once differences and convergences between New Left Review and one of its founders, the essay concludes by suggesting the virtues of diversity within a common socialist culture.
“Anderson evaluates the entire corpus of Thompson’s work as a historian and as a socialist ... The result is a fascinating assessment of the man Anderson claims to be ‘our finest socialist writer today.’ ... In so doing Anderson provides a superb essay in historiography as well as an important chapter of the history of the left in England.”
“An excellent book—exemplary in its tone, coverage, consistency and, an important point this, in its accessibility.”
“[Anderson] is an exceptionally determined, diligent, careful and intellectually capable thinker.”
“His argument ... takes on an exceptional fluency and subtlety, touching many of the key points of socialist morality, socialist history and the socialist future. Its core is a very elegant restatement of the undogmatic essence of Marx.”
“Despite the immense erudition it reads lightly and restores the most diverse theoretical debates to the concrete realities of socialist strategic thinking about contemporary issues.”