From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Alex Callinicos and Duncan Hallas hit the right balance in their appreciations of the work of Edward Thompson. There is much to praise in his historical work but less so in his politics.
I am surprised however that more attention is not paid to the specific politics of Thompson’s historical work which is likely to be his enduring legacy.
Thompson’s Peculiarities of the English is a resounding riposte to the still peddled nonsense that the British working class never really existed and a celebration of the epic struggles of that class. But it ducks the question of how the struggles it so eloquently describes are to be organised in the future.
Equally, the legacy of Stalin affected Thompson’s history in other areas too. In the current History Workshop Journal for example there is a sharp exchange between Thompson and Raphael Samuel which centres on whether or not Thompson has ignored the issue of women’s history.
Thompson would no doubt have been displeased by the sugary obituaries which appeared to him, even extending to the Daily Telegraph. It is the job of socialists to celebrate and learn from his work but also to build on the legacy of historical work that he has left.
Last updated: 28 February 2017