4 Bryan D. Palmer and E. P. Thompson
In the 1960s, Edward Palmer Thompson burst onto the historical scene with a monumental history, The Making of the English Working Class. Rejecting static sociological depictions of class and those derived from a Marxism that saw class subjects as simply the bearers of productive relations, Thompson defined class as a happening, an active process that owed as much to agency as to conditioning. In Thompson’s definition, class experience was largely determined by the productive relations into which one entered at birth and hence involuntarily, but “class consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas and institutional forms.”1 This notion liberated history from the passive, adaptive sense of class that littered many textbooks. It brought class agency to centre stage. Class was no longer marginal to history proper, a convenient backdrop to industrial development. It opened up what had hitherto been only a “prehistory” of labour, a prelude to a narrative of union relations. By contrast, Thompson’s The Making explored modes of collective action ignored and sidelined in orthodox labour history. And in this new enterprise, engagement mattered. Common people were no longer the objects of history; their interventions ruffled feathers and made a difference. In discovering the creative agency of ordinary people, Thompson read the institutional archive “against the grain” to produce a history from below that was irreverent, mischievous, seditious, and sometimes insurrectionary. He brought muscle and vibrancy to popular history in intoxicating ways. One did not have to be a Marxist to appreciate the novelty of the method, especially the re-enactment of historical social dramas, the confrontations with authority, and the active interventions on the historical terrain. As cultural historian Kathleen Wilson reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of The Making, Thompson brought performativity to historical studies before the term was invented.2
Thompson’s The Making was an exemplary model for Bryan D. Palmer’s dissertation project, and in an interview with Left History, he admitted as much: “When . . . I moved in the direction of graduate studies, I was uncertain about what to study: I had a longstanding and intense interest in race and seriously considered doing what then would have been called black history. But it was relooking at The Making that convinced me to do labour history.”3 Although two thousand miles and eighty or so years separated the two subjects, there were many aspects of The Making that inspired and informed Palmer’s work. To begin with, Thompson located the largest resistance to industrial capitalism among skilled artisans, not factory operatives. He did so because it was not immiseration so much as the challenge to their values, craft pride, and sense of respect and independence that provoked opposition. And indeed, the skilled workers’ literacy and associational life, their journeymen’s clubs and parish wakes, provided them with the collective resources to struggle against deskilling and the commodification of their labour as the industrial process advanced. Likewise, in Ontario’s Hamilton in the era of industrialization between 1860 and 1914, Palmer saw the skilled workers “as the cutting edge of the working-class movement,” for similar reasons as Thompson and with similar resources; although, understandably, given the specific development of the steel industry in Hamilton, there was more emphasis on shop-floor control than there was in Thompson’s study, where textile industries and small artisanal production dominated the industrial landscape. Even so, echoing Thompson, Palmer stressed the relationship between culture and conflict in the making of the working-class movement in Hamilton, and approvingly quoted Thompson’s notion of working-class culture as a “way of struggle” rather than a “way of life,” an active process “through which men make their history.”4 This led him to expand the conventional boundaries of labour history—to move beyond a study of strikes to various modes of association life, to informal modes of community control such as whitecapping, and to issues of time and work discipline that were broached in Thompson’s The Making and explored more fully in a premier article in Past and Present.5
There are, then, some obvious homologies between Thompson’s The Making and Palmer’s study of late nineteenth-century Hamilton, and closer affinities between both authors’ exploration of the charivari. Yet beyond this there was the historiographical “state of play” in the 1970s as social history came of age and engaged the attention of more scholars. By then Thompson had emerged as the leading exponent of history from below and one of a notable cluster of British historians, most with former Communist Party affiliations, who wrote from a Marxist perspective. The British Marxists, however, were but one of several “schools” competing for attention in the take-off of social history; among them were the French Annales, the historical demographers, and various American advocates of modernization. At stake was the relationship of history to other disciplines in the social sciences, and how explicit model-based social history should be.
Like Thompson, Palmer had little interest in a close marriage between history and sociology, largely because the latter’s approach to class was too synchronic and mechanistic and inattentive to the continuous interplay between theory and evidence. In 1979, when Culture in Conflict was published, Palmer was uncharacteristically cautious and ambivalent about this, rejecting Althusserian analysis but toying with the usefulness of Levi-Strauss’s structuralism as a way of examining culture.6 One would have thought, given his interest in historicizing culture, Palmer would have dispatched Levi-Strauss as well, since his binaries—The Raw and the Cooked and so on—cut through historical specificities in the quest for neat trans or ahistorical paradigms. That aside, in his own work Palmer had to confront alternative readings of social history from Michael Katz, who had a team of researchers delve into Hamilton’s social structures through a computerization of the censuses of 1851 and 1861 and allied sources.7 Katz’s project was superbly funded and poorly framed, unable to really tackle the social dynamics of Hamilton’s transition to steel town because it ignored the 1871 census when Hamilton was about to enter the heady waters of industrial conflict and demands for an eight-hour day. Useful in recognizing that social hierarchy could co-exist with transiency, and willing to acknowledge the hazards of downward mobility among Hamilton’s business class, something American historians largely ignored in their infatuation with upward mobility, Katz agonized over class. He could not find it in his computer cards, not even when he matched occupational status with property values and household structures. He eventually opted for “status crystallization,” a computerized concept if ever there was one, based on the synchronicity of measurable units, and beyond that a three-tiered class structure. And while some interesting data was disclosed about boarders and the age of leaving home in his demographic research, the sum was a lot less than the parts.
Palmer was dubious that Katz’s modernization venture delivered very much, believing there was more to be gained from traditional sources in illuminating the dynamics and texture of Hamilton’s class struggle. His original comments were terse and muted, but they were a lot more strident four years later when Katz published, along with Stern and Doucet, a sequel called The Social Organization of Early Industrial Capitalism.8 This was an auto-critique of the 1975 venture, an admission by Katz that Marx had a point in delineating two fundamental classes, a capitalist and a working class, and that quantitative calibrations of class left much to be desired. Palmer was scathing about the retraction, seeing it as an opportunistic retreat by Katz in the face of trenchant criticism, for Katz still insisted that quantitative methods had much to tell social historians, particularly on the effects of transiency and poverty in creating an acquiescent working class. Palmer was not having it, and his review registered many of the reservations that Thompson and others like Herbert Gutman had levelled and continued to level at American social science history: that it paraded the false verities of quantification as superior to qualitative evidence, that it flattened and played down the volatility of class struggle, and that it was too quick to generalize from undigested or incomplete data, in this case from the gendered nature of production without apt comparisons from different industries.9 Above all, Katz’s book epitomized the hubris of serial historians who captivated funders with the nirvana of computer-land and social science rhetoric. People whom Richard Cobb would derisively call “historians in white coats.”10
Palmer’s more embattled position may have represented his deeper understanding of Thompson’s writing-in-context, for soon after revising his dissertation into a book he embarked on a compact biography entitled The Making of E. P. Thompson. This was an attempt to situate Thompson as writer, political activist, and historian, a book on which many later commentators have since drawn and that was eagerly sought upon Thompson’s passing. Palmer claimed it was not written as an “intellectual odyssey,” but in many senses it was.11 To begin with, Palmer was the first historian to delve publicly into Thompson’s background and reveal the intimate relationship between Thompson’s historical writing and his politics; in particular, there was his own participation in World War II, the tragic death of his brother Frank in 1944 when fighting with the Bulgarian partisans, and the heady days of 1947 when he and his future wife helped build a Yugoslavian railway with fellow travellers on the left, an experience Thompson described as the “euphoric aftermath of a revolutionary tradition.”12 As Palmer made clear, Thompson’s politics were forged in the Popular Front against fascism, with a commitment to a brand of Communism, socialist humanism, that he retained after his break with the British Communist Party, while working to create an alternative New Left.
Palmer saw Thompson’s postwar endeavours as exemplary: a perfect model of the historian-activist who became an important public intellectual, a status accorded to very few as communicative practices switched from radio to television and universities often bottled up or inhibited public debate.13 Thompson evoked what a social historian should be: not simply a historian with a social conscience, but one whose intellectual work would provoke social change. To begin with, Thompson initially taught history and literature outside the academy not in it, to workers whom he hoped to learn from and mobilize. In a way Thompson, despite his upper-class background, strove to be something akin to an “organic intellectual” whose task, as in Gramsci’s political firmament, was to transform customary ways of thinking in radical, revolutionary directions—to begin “the war of position,” the “warrening” or undermining of existing institutions necessary for socialist advance. As Thompson himself remarked in the New Left Review, the radical intellectual should be “a force which may precipitate a new consciousness and initiate much broader processes.”14 His acknowledged aim in teaching extra-mural classes associated with the Workers’ Education Authority was to “create revolutionaries.”15
This goal was buttressed by intellectual work that dug deep into British thought to recover and reanimate radical traditions that might contribute to a socialist future. This sort of activity was not new. Interwar Communists had embarked on the enterprise in different ways, and Thompson’s first task, endorsed by the Communist Party’s Historians Group, was to explore the fusion of Romanticism and Marxism in the work of William Morris.16 After 1956, when Thompson broke with the Communist Party, he embarked upon political projects that sought to create new spaces for a New Left, such as the launching of a new journal, The New Reasoner, and campaigning for nuclear disarmament, a movement (CND) that Thompson always saw as critical to disassembling the Cold War polarities that inhibited any progress to socialism. In his estimation, the Cold War was “the greatest effective cause of apathy, inhibiting or distorting all forms of social growth.”17
At times in Palmer’s short portrait of Thompson there is a yearning for the same kind of activity in Canada, where radical thinkers were more marginal and where historiographical conventions stubbornly resisted, and sometimes ridiculed, the new social history. Like Thompson, Palmer’s intellectual genesis occurred outside the academy rather than in it, and like Thompson, Palmer launched a journal that allowed him to promote his vision of history.18 In 1976, together with his good friend Gregory S. Kealey, the newly minted graduates founded Labour/Le Travail in an effort to broaden the vistas of Canadian history in socialist directions, to reinvigorate “class” and “class consciousness” in a country where regionalism and nationalism held sway, and where new immigrant histories often reinforced their own identity politics. Some progress had been made south of the border through the efforts and example of historians like Herbert Gutman, who had been Kealey’s supervisor, Eugene Genovese, and Staughton Lynd; they had begun to tackle the old orthodoxy of American exceptionalism in new ways, often drawing inspiration from Thompson. But one senses that Palmer felt it was an upward battle in the True North, where business-and-politics perspectives held sway and smugness sometimes rained down on the “working-class culture” camp. More to the point, Palmer’s exemplary historian was himself under attack, in ways that Palmer thought potentially detonated a radical social history.
It was inevitable that an intervention like The Making would provoke sustained analysis. The first reviews were largely empirical in nature, about whether there was one working class, whether English radicalism at the turn of the nineteenth century was quite so insurrectionary and popularly grounded, and whether Thompson had ignored the popular appeal of loyalism in the protracted war against France.19 Palmer was not particularly interested in these objections to a book he so greatly admired, although he was not unaware of some of the more searching critiques. In Objections and Oppositions, the book he wrote upon Thompson’s death in 1993, he listed some of the more salient: the privileging of resistance rather than accommodation in working-class experience; the problem of talking about a working-class consciousness when capitalist production was unevenly distributed across the country; the masculine bias of working-class politics and the marginalization of women’s experience.20 He rather belittled the criticisms, be they “Marxist, feminist or mainstream,” as picayune. There is an element of polemical sidestepping here, largely out of loyalty to a historian he so greatly admired and who was so often under attack, although Palmer likely thought the sad occasion was inopportune for a sustained critique.
Thompson often talked of working in a Marxist “tradition,” by which he meant the body of doctrine he had initially encountered in the British Communist Party. Despite its Stalinist determinisms and reductions, the party tolerated and sometimes encouraged the exploration of radical democratic impulses within British thought. In this respect Thompson inherited a body of thinking, often referred to as the Good Old Cause, that was articulated by authors like A. L. Morton and Christopher Hill.21 The influence of this tradition—Protestant, antinomian, millenarian, libertarian—flows through the early chapters of The Making and forms part of Thompson’s rebuttal of Anderson and Nairn in “The Peculiarities of the English,” where he refutes their claim that Britain lacked a bourgeois revolution by suggesting that from a stadial perspective the multiple challenges to absolutist rule in the seventeenth century decisively broke the constraints of neo-feudalism. This victory over royal powers, carried out by a mélange of progressive landowners and mercantile arrivistes, consolidated capitalism as the dominant mode of production, however undramatic it might appear to those schooled in the French Revolution.22 It also generated new challenges to the propertied order through the agency and vision of Leveller soldiers and religious sectarians, an impetus brilliantly analyzed a little later by Thompson’s ally, Christopher Hill.23 This quest for a British-born radicalism was central to the goals of the historians within the British Communist Party. It is there at the beginning of Thompson’s work, in his efforts to marry Morris to Marx, and very explicitly at the end, in his study of Blake, Witness Against the Beast, when Thompson declares himself something of a “Muggletonian Marxist.”24 As Palmer rightly remarked, Thompson’s study of Blake situated him in “an antinomian tradition reaching back to the seventeenth-century ranting impulse of dissent,”25 a historicist exercise that did not go down well with scholars reared on Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry, where Blake’s visionary symbolism soared to the biblical and capital C “Cultures” of the literary imagination.
Yet the literary influences on Thompson—he studied and taught literature as much as history—certainly modulated his Marxism. They always made it humanist rather than scientific, a quality that marked him off from some other members of the Communist Party Historians’ Group, such as Eric Hobsbawm, who even in his more cultural ventures such as Primitive Rebels, controlled them by apt comparisons. Thompson’s literary strain emerges most clearly in his rejection of economic determinism and the base–superstructure model of explanation favoured by many Marxists.26 This brand of Marxism he considered sterile, reductive, and disabling to class agency. Thompson preferred the co-determination of social being and social consciousness, mediated by experience. This formulation left room for history and historically nuanced forms of class action, whereas highly economistic versions of Marxism reified class and treated human subjects as Pavlovian dogs reacting to contradictions between the mode and relations of production. “When William Morris brought the romantic and the Marxist critique together,” reflected Thompson, “and wrote of the ‘innate moral baseness’ of the capitalist system he did not indicate a moral superstructure derivative of the economic base. He meant—and he abundantly demonstrated his meaning—that capitalist society was founded upon forms of exploitation which are simultaneously economic, moral and cultural.”27 Thompson’s insight brought a freshness and originality to his study of eighteenth-century custom, where common rights were both economic and legal issues, inseparable from one another.28 It spawned new insights into the operations of the law in vindicating and more often than not criminalizing those customary rights and privileges, perks that provided the plebeian classes with critical sources of extra-market, non-wage income. In effect, the law was brought to bear on the problem of primitive accumulation in fruitful ways. This was an advance on the Hammonds, who did a lot of spadework on what they termed the “social” (not moral) economy, yet stressed the erosion of custom rather than the embattled defence of it.29
When Thompson talked of the relationship between social being and social consciousness he often did so in terms of a clash of values. In his discussion of Raymond Williams’s The Long Revolution, for example, he followed Alasdair MacIntyre in suggesting that while the mode of production and productive relationships determines cultural processes in the epochal sense, there is a kernel of human relations that produces a moral as much as an economic logic, transmitting, say in the nineteenth century, patterns of “acquisitiveness, competitiveness and individualism.” In a reductive moment, Thompson argued that the working-class movement of that century might be seen as “a movement of resistance to the enunciation of economic man.”30 This conceptualization allowed for literary treatments of class struggle. In many ways, they enriched Thompson’s historical narratives. They brought the intuition of the poet to working-class struggle. Romanticism and revolution get written into The Making; Blake haunts its pages. In Whigs and Hunters, it is the turn of the Tory satirists, Pope and Swift, the satirists of Walpolean corruption.31
At the same time, this literary lens opened up problems in Thompson’s analysis. The resistance of workers in The Making is persistently related to the ideologies of utilitarianism and political economy, not to productive relations or interactions with sections of the governing class. In his deployment of the term utilitarianism, Thompson often gestures to the literary vision of F. R. Leavis, an influential figure in literary circles when Thompson was at Cambridge, who cast literary endeavours as efforts to transcend the doctrine’s philistinism. Yet on other occasions utilitarian represents the ingrained attitudes of a Gradgrind in Dickens’s Hard Times, or the professional ethos of Jeremy Bentham and company. And if Thompson’s concept of utilitarianism is a little slippery, his notion of political economy is over-generalized. In the period 1790–1830, there were significant mutations in political economy in its market imperatives. Adam Smith is not David Ricardo; and some sections of the ruling class—Tory radicals and JPs in grain counties, for example—were a lot more paternalist than others. Under popular pressure, they mitigated the drift to laissez-faire economics.
Focusing upon ideology often works in highlighting the battle of ideas and attitudes over capitalism, but it opened Thompson to the charge of “culturalism,” to the allegation that his class struggles were situated in the superstructural terrain and ignored the economic determinants of class interaction. Palmer rightly rejected this charge, noting that Thompson never denied the importance of material factors and remained focused on the dialectic between culture and non-culture, on how material experiences were handled in cultural ways.32 “Those propositions of historical materialism which bear upon the relation between social being and social consciousness, upon the relations of production and their determinations, upon modes of exploitation, class struggle, ideology, or upon capitalist social and economic formations, are (at one pole of their ‘dialogue’) derived from the observation of historical eventuation over time,” Thompson wrote. They emerge from the historical record by tracing regularities as evidence of systematic social formations. But they could not be frozen, as some sociologists would want, Thompson argued, because they were really in process, moments of being and becoming, “with contradictions and liaisons, dominant and subordinate elements, declining or ascending energies.”33 To the hard nuts of Marxian political economy, this was loosely formulated, lacking the necessary precision of a mode of production and its contradictions. Some suspected Thompson was a romantic socialist, not a real Marxist, while others were troubled by the status of “experience” in Thompson’s writings, a crucial concept that was invariably tilted toward the positive and emancipating, not the numbing weight of oppression and marginalization. Even in his eighteenth-century studies, where Thompson was more preoccupied with the equilibrium of social relations than he was in The Making, the stress was on counter-hegemonic strategies rather than impenetrable, enclave cultures.34
In Arguments within English Marxism, Perry Anderson noted the singular absence of any quantitative measures of industrial populations, whether factory or artisanal, and believed this handicapped Thompson’s exploration of the new industrial landscape.35 The criticism is theoretically apt, though of a tall order, because at the time The Making was written, very little work had been done on capital formation and factory concentration. Stanley Chapman’s exploration of insurance registers as an index of capital formation didn’t emerge until 1970, seven years after The Making. François Crouzet’s book came out two years beyond that, and David Levine’s research into the demographic dynamics of industrial populations was only published in 1977.36 Anderson was really asking the impossible. Thompson, it should be said, was aware of the problem. Alongside the polemic about the standard-of-living controversy of the industrial revolution, there were three chapters illustrating the differently paced modes of exploitation in key industries. Even so, as Palmer has suggested, there is not enough about surplus extraction in Thompson’s account of exploitation. Thompson was more preoccupied with the loss of rights in the language of John Thelwall and other Jacobins.37
The tendency to define struggles in the language of contemporaries also meant Thompson sometimes glossed the structures of power in Georgian society. While he offered a substantive critique of the prevailing notions of paternalism offered by people like Harold Perkin and Peter Laslett, his analysis of political power at the top was sometimes impressionistic.38 I can agree with Palmer that he was aware of the importance of political power and the role of the state, but I do not think he really delved into them, save in his understanding of the role of the law in handling propertied relations and customary rights.39 For example, in Whigs and Hunters, Thompson followed Pope and Swift in castigating Sir Robert Walpole as a politician who brought unparalleled levels of corruption to Britain’s oligarchy.40 Yet he failed to recognize the degree to which Walpole melded the gentry and the monied interest into a powerful bloc that proved the bedrock of political stability, reducing direct taxes to benefit landlords and reordering the National Debt to suit the financiers. The result was that despite the cronyism that plagued high politics, the Georgian state proved a sufficiently efficient tax collector, geared itself for war and imperial trade, and boosted its industries through protective tariffs and a navy that kept the lanes open for commerce.41 Old Corruption, the radical Whig construction beloved of Tory satirists, the Romantic radicals, and Edward Thompson, will not explain the emergence of Britain as a world power in the eighteenth century.
Similarly, Thompson fell short in delineating the political crisis over the Reform Bill that forms the apogee of The Making. Thompson asserted the revolution was a possibility, especially during October 1831 when urban riots indicated “a deep disturbance at the foundations of society.”42 Yet the largest riots in Bristol ran the gamut of protest and pillage without any radical political direction, and elsewhere anger against the Lords did not translate into a threat to the regime. It is difficult to see Britain “within an ace of a revolution,”43 especially when middle-class unions mediated the conflict. In “The Peculiarities of the English” Thompson had another opportunity to address this problem. Here he elaborated on the British structure of power before 1832, noting that the victory of an agrarian capitalist class, the gentry, was blighted by a parasitic congeries of interests at the top, Old Corruption, which was shaken by the American war and finally undermined in 1832. Thompson noted that the rhetoric of revolution was used by the Whigs to intimidate the monarch and the Tories in power, and again gestured that it was almost the real thing. I would argue not, because crucial sections of the ruling bloc, the gentry and the financial bourgeoisie, remained intact throughout the crisis, and popular opposition to old oligarchy articulated at best a militant constitutionalism, not revolution.
So, there are grounds for saying that Thompson’s particular brand of romantic, almost apocalyptic socialism, with its strong literary referents, sometimes glossed the historical relationship between political and economic power. The same criticism could be levelled against his assessments of contemporary politics. In linking past and present, Palmer has suggested that Thompson was attempting to “come to grips with the explanatory puzzle of the failure of revolution in nineteen-century England and its relationship to more contemporary failures of the left.”44 I am not sure the link was that strong, unless one draws historical parallels between the scaremongering politics of British counterrevolution in the 1790s and the Cold War crisis of the 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, if Thompson’s essays in the New Left Review are any indication, he was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the New Left as he was writing The Making, sensing real possibilities in opening up a new political space with the coming of CND, while harnessing the energies of the New Left clubs around the country. In this respect, it is worth comparing Thompson’s articles on “Revolution,” by which he meant bringing a Gramscian “war of position” to socialism, with Stuart Hall’s reflections on the post-1956 initiatives, published later in 1989.45 Here one gets a keener sense of the cross-currents—generational, regional, aspirational—that proved difficult to navigate and in the end made the New Left more of a milieu than a movement, even before Perry Anderson assumed the editorship of the New Left Review. Hall’s reflections, in fact, call for a reassessment of political conjuncture of the 1960s, and by extension challenge the claim that Anderson’s editorial coup at the New Left Review was responsible for the failure of the New Left and a flight from politics into theory. The social bases of the New Left were precarious to begin with; it never developed strong roots in the union movement, save in Fife. Unions were a key area of conflict in the postwar era as workers dug in and acquired a larger share of the national income. The post-tax rate of profit in British industries actually fell from 8.1 percent in the early 1950s to 3.2 percent in 1969 and pushed Capital to the wall.46 This was the crucial context for Thompson’s hopes of “Revolution.” And the New Left Review did not simply fly into the stratosphere of theoretical Euro-Marxism. Between 1964 and 1971, there were articles on British politics, the future of the novel, the American blues singer Robert Johnson, American civil rights, decolonization, and the crisis of British capital.
The charge of “culturalism” levelled at Thompson came largely from structuralists eager to read for the right Marx. They found Thompson wanting. Thompson retorted with a blistering attack on the main guru, Louis Althusser, in The Poverty of Theory, in which he defended historical inquiry and historical materialism and cast Althusser’s theoretical interventions as an “orrery of errors,” mechanical and in essence idealist.47 In the Ruskin conference on “People’s History and Socialist Theory” in 1979, he turned on the structuralists and castigated them for overlooking the fact that he had been a critic of the culturalism offered by Raymond Williams in the early days of the New Left. Thompson adamantly refused the charge of “culturalism” on political and theoretical grounds, noting that his brand of Marxism was forged in the vortex of 1956, as a protest against Stalinism and its reductive character. Against his detractors, he insisted that his notion of “experience” was “determining, in the sense that it exerts pressures upon existent social consciousness” and proposed new questions. If people wanted to differentiate between lived experience, what one initially encounters in structured life situations, and perceived experience, what one makes of it in political practice, a definition soon to be echoed by Perry Anderson in Arguments within English Marxism, so be it. But Thompson was not going to give ground to a structuralism that he saw as deleterious to Marxist or marxisant historical practice.48
Palmer has been sympathetic and defensive of Thompson’s position. He, too, has found Althusserian Marxism and subsequent poststructuralisms to be profoundly ahistorical. He has lauded postwar English historians like Thompson for making rich contributions to historical materialism, fusing history and theory. “Far from refusing theory,” writes Palmer “this historical writing is poised at the fruitful conjuncture of conceptualization and empirical explorations of the admittedly problematic evidence generated out of the past, a practice that demands the integration of structure and agency, being and consciousness, past and present, subject and interpretation, and the self-reflective elaboration of [those] relationships.”49 True, Palmer does not necessarily agree with Thompson’s reading of Marx. He does not endorse the notion of an epistemological break in Marx’s writings, from the youthful Marx to the more clinical inquiries into political economy in volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, as Thompson seemed to do in his critique of Althusser’s structuralist Marxism, believing that from the Grundrisse onwards, Marx’s thought was “locked inside a static anti-historical structure.”50 This suggests that Palmer is not a wholehearted advocate of Thompson’s socialist humanism, however much he admires Thompson for his stalwart defence of historical materialism. In fact, we know Palmer endorses the importance of a vanguard as a socialist strategy in a way Thompson never did, at least after his break with the Communist Party in 1956. Palmer is openly dubious that Thompson’s libertarian Communism or Marxism is enough to transcend existing capitalist structures.51 His recent studies of James P. Cannon and the Minneapolis truckers’ strikes of 1934 have confirmed his belief in the importance of revolutionary vanguard cadres.52
After the Ruskin conference, Thompson turned away from discussions of historical materialism. “Within a few short years,” writes Palmer, “this longstanding commitment to Marxism would soften, weaken, and ultimately fade away.”53 Perhaps. One should note that the publication of old and new essays in Customs in Common in 1991 shows no definitive departure from historical materialism. Whether this withdrawal from theoretical debate was a strategic retreat or one diverted by Thompson’s deep involvement in the campaign for European nuclear disarmament (END), remains open. Palmer, in sensing a drift away from Marxism, would argue the latter, perhaps wondering whether Thompson’s notion of “exterminism,” the self-generated escalation of the arms race by America and Russia, an isomorphism that stamped its presence on society rather than a military-industrial complex within it, was sufficiently grounded in materialist considerations.54
While Thompson was campaigning for END and attempting to disable the Cold War by creating links between East and West European peace activists, his historical work was subject to a somewhat different structuralist critique than that of Althusserian Marxists. The battle at Ruskin had been as much political as historical, a battle about the future of the British New Left, which had lost momentum. The battle over the “linguistic turn” was not without its politics, particularly with respect to the feminist movement as Palmer makes clear in Descent into Discourse, but it was more broadly historiographical. Originating with the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and moving in poststructural directions of contingency and indeterminacy under Jacques Derrida, literary scholars fixated on the materiality of language. They charged historians with strip-mining texts without attending to their mediations and narrative tropes. The charge was not without its merits, as Palmer acknowledges: “Poststructurally inclined historians rightly stress the need for closer attention to language and representation, demand scrutiny of the unreflective construction of analytical categories within the master codes of dominant ideologies both past and present, and justifiably call for research into the discursive categories that surround the social space of class and consciousness.”55 Social science historians devoted to number crunching were often extremely cavalier with literary texts, reading unreflexively for illustrative evidence to bolster the “real” evidence they found in the census or some equivalent series. Literary evidence was often handled mimetically or was seen as marginal to real historical processes.
The charge was levelled at Thompson, despite the nuanced literary character of much of his historical work and his sensitive reading of texts that anticipated reception theory, how texts were received by audiences. This is patently clear in his discussion of Paine and Cobbett in The Making.56 Even so, critics accused Thompson of shoehorning texts into class statements. Didn’t Thompson “read through” many radical statements about popular rights and interpret them as class rather than populist texts? Didn’t he adopt reflectionist strategies when it suited him? Why should the 1832 Sadler Committee’s inquiry into the factories have “an authenticity which compels belief” when the Factory Committee of 1833 is dismissed as partisan?57 Why should one privilege the account of the 1818 Manchester strike by a fictive “journeyman cotton spinner” in the radical Black Dwarf as exposing the realities of capitalist exploitation?58 Thompson would reply, following the historical procedures set down by R. G. Collingwood, that every text has to be interrogated for its biases and purpose, but that one can find “structure-bearing” evidence that summarizes the quintessential social relations of the time. This, he admitted, was a controversial move.59 In his eighteenth-century work, Thompson privileged a conversation between a magistrate and an intransigent weaver because it disclosed the contradictory tensions within paternalism, in that the weaver is deferential to the JP but defensively insistent on his contractual rights with his employer.60 The historical move would send someone like Roger Chartier into paroxysms, so devoted as he is to the strict context and genre of texts. This is because the conversation is part of an anecdote set within a pamphlet written by Daniel Defoe on the insubordination of “servants.” For Chartier, Thompson short-circuits the text in unconscionable ways, just as Robert Darnton did in his Great Cat Massacre.61
Another dimension to the linguistic attack of Thompson came with the rise of new subjectivities in historical writing, often defined by anti-humanist conventions. For these critics, language preceded and shaped consciousness, not the other way around, and for the deconstructionist critic, it was necessary to attend to silences and alterities of the text—not simply what was said, but what was suppressed, hidden, and sutured. Within these contexts Thompson’s definition of class came under attack. To begin with, Thompson’s emphasis on the primacy of class had to contend with the proliferation of new identities: gender, race, and ethnicity. Why wasn’t there more on women in The Making? Where were the Irish, the targets of sectarian riots in 1745, 1780, and beyond, especially in Liverpool and Manchester? And what about race and empire? Some of Thompson’s own students took him to task on that score. In one assessment, Peter Linebaugh argued that Thompson’s The Making was the history of the “English working class, but not the working class in England,”62 meaning that he ignored seafarers and the “motley crew” that visited and sometimes settled in the island’s ports.
Thompson admitted some of the deficiencies. One historian cannot do everything, and Thompson’s own analysis of the eighteenth century was rooted in the problematic set out by people like Tawney, Polanyi, and Dodd—namely, the long transition to capitalism and the stubborn resistance to it. In conceptualizing the eighteenth century in terms of a patrician-plebs polarity, Thompson admitted he would “pass over a great deal of what lies in between: commerce, manufacture, London’s luxury trades, overseas empire.”63 This is a lot to pass over, and it begs the question of the relationship of the state to class power, and at a secondary level, the relationship of parish to landed society, especially since middling tradesmen and farmers were directly responsible for the administration of basic welfare, the poor law.
The essays in Customs in Common were written as feminist history was unfolding and understandably show a greater sensitivity to gender relations than The Making, a book written before feminist history really developed. The latter is not without its reflections on women’s rights, as Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from History makes clear,64 and it features some helpful reflections on the tensions within industrial households with the inflow of women into the mills, reflections other authors would follow and develop. Indeed, The Making was not incompatible with Marxist or marxisant brands of feminism, as Anna Clark’s Struggle for the Breeches proved,65 even if it diminished the heroic narrative Thompson wrote and made it more tragic. The same could not be said about radical feminism in a deconstructionist vein. Joan Scott argued that Thompson didn’t simply marginalize women in The Making, he defined class in gendered terms, so that class action in the public sphere privileged rational men, while women were consigned to the expressive, domestic sphere.66
Palmer reacted strongly to this suggestion. In a close reading of The Making, he argued that Scott’s gendered binaries—men/women, political/domestic, rational/expressive—simply didn’t hold up under scrutiny, particularly with respect to authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, a rational radical nonconformist who strove to reanimate political motherhood and dissuade women from a politics of coquetry.67 While not disputing the usefulness of gendered discourses in history, Palmer argued that Scott’s appraisal tilted “too problematically towards the determining power of discourse” and erroneously claimed “there is no social experience apart from people’s perception of it.”68 Everything gets wrapped up in discourse, a troubling formulation for Marxists interested in historical processes bearing upon individuals—in Thompson’s terms, the pressures of social being upon social consciousness. The formulation would be unacceptable to cultural Marxists like Mikhail Bakhtin, who argued for the multivocality of many texts, the heteroglossia, the deviant voices of the margins. And even to poststructuralists like Derrida, depending on how self-contained the definition of discourse proved to be, since Derrida’s notion of différence means to defer as much as differentiate, adding elements of indeterminacy to the linguistic formalisms of de Saussure.
Palmer does not reject discourse theory out of hand. He recognizes that historians should try to assimilate some of its insights, such as its emphasis upon the materiality of language. This would make social history more prismatic and attentive to its investigative procedures than it often has been. His reservations echo Thompson’s remarks on Althusserian Marxism, that discourse theory too readily abandons process for structure, that it ignores the determining processes of history, particularly the notion of determination in historical materialism. Palmer’s critique of poststructuralism centres on the incessant play of discursive subjectivities to the occlusion of any consideration of capitalist forms of exploitation and oppression. A radical discourse theory in a structuralist mode would evacuate the “social” for the “social imaginary,” historical actors for subject positions. It would produce a historical word game with reality effects, a world of simulations in the manner of Jean Baudrillard. Like Ellen Meiksins Wood, who advanced the same criticisms of discourse theory and its use by historians,69 Palmer believes linguistic structuralism will deliver a bad politics. It will only encourage pessimism and fatalism. At best it will look for semi-autonomous spaces within capitalism, like Foucault’s heterotopias.70
Palmer’s critique of poststructuralism in Descent into Discourse was followed up by his own exploration of historical “difference,” a key concept in the linguistic turn. Tracking night’s transgressions in a series of “travelogues” through the ages, Palmer reveals the marginal lived and imagined lives beyond the estranged and disempowered rhythms of everyday capitalism.71 In one sense, this is an exploration of the long resistance to capitalist development that echoed and emulated the work of Thompson in terms of customary practices and work discipline. In another, it is an astute intervention into the debate over the “linguistic” or “cultural” turn, taking on his opponents on their own ground. By examining the antinomies of lightness and dark, work and play, orthodoxy and heterodoxy over six centuries, Palmer shows it is possible to draw out the rich allegorical meanings associated with the dark, the illicit, the repressed, without losing sight of the social and economic determinations that drive and shape people’s lives. In what is a brilliantly imaginative book, Palmer delves into the “dark cultures of the night,” from the benandanti or “night walkers” of sixteenth-century Friuli to the Jacobin societies of the 1790s, to the jazz clubs, to the queer and race riots of twentieth-century American cities. It is a wonderful panorama of hopes, fears, and transgressions that at a meta-level offers a conversation between Marx and the guru of discursive orders, Michel Foucault.72 Palmer has managed to explore the social imaginaries of the past without losing sight of the social. He offers a cultural materialism that grounds the traffic in metaphors that absorb, even obsess, historians of representation.
Palmer situates the advance of structuralist linguistics in the self-regarding, self-contained silos of the academy. This seems to me to be only part of the story. As Mark Poster has argued, part of the popularity of the linguistic turn has stemmed from the fact that we live in a world of proliferating signs, in a world where communicative practices penetrate more deeply into private lives and households than ever before.73 Semiology, the study of signs, and by extension language, mattered in unravelling this new universe. Whether we believe the new state of affairs constituted a mode of communication or not, it is certainly clear that the mobilization of signs added to the allure of consumer capitalism, while also disaggregating working-class communities, a development Richard Hoggart anticipated and feared in The Uses of Literacy.74 In political terms, social critics had to wrestle with the fact that the crisis of British capital in the 1960s had moved to capital’s advantage by 1980, and the subsequent onslaught on organized labour and deepening inequality produced no major challenge to the dismantling of the welfare state and neoliberal reform.
Complicating this new political map was the influx of Commonwealth immigration after 1950, a feature that shaped the crisis and, in Althusserian terms, overdetermined it. Thompson never addressed this head on. As Palmer makes patently clear, his politics were forged in the resistance to Nazism and Popular Front politics, and he was far more at home debating whether social democratic ventures could be pushed toward socialism, and what that might entail in terms of “educating desire,” than dealing with the politics of retreat in a declining imperial nation. Thompson had no truck with consumerism and underestimated its appeal. And curiously, for a man reared on anti-imperial sentiment through his father, Edward John Thompson, he had little to say about postcolonial problems and race in Britain. Perhaps, as Robert Gregg suggests, his familiarity with empire made him blind to it.75 Within the New Left, it was left to people like Stuart Hall to probe the paradoxes of the unfolding crisis, which he did in essays like “The Great Moving Right Show,” deploying an eclectic range of theory from Althusser, Gramsci, Laclau, and others.76
One argument Hall advanced was that the shift to the right could not be explained in terms of false ideology or the scapegoating of immigrants. He argued that Thatcher and company had successfully articulated and reworked ideas about the nation, character, liberty, and independence that were part of the doxa of Britain’s protestant national heritage. The Blue Machine’s promotion of these ideas was quite successful, particularly during and in the wake of the Falklands War; it was “a bizarre episode” wrote Thompson, “a sudden flush of imperial nostalgia, as if Britain had suddenly fallen through the time-warp into the 18th or 19th century.”77 Given his extraordinary historical talents, it is a pity Thompson didn’t say more about this squalid struggle in the South Atlantic, which drew plaudits from the mainstream press about brave British boys taking on a tin-pot dictator, and even drove some leading Labour politicians into compliance with Thatcher’s little war. Rather Thompson devoted his energies to the peace movement in the strife-ridden days of Thatcher, opening the Trafalgar Square demonstration for nuclear disarmament in 1981 with a Blakeian flourish: “Against the kingdom of the beast, we witness shall rise.”78 Christopher Hitchens winced, while others were downright puzzled. But Edward heaved to the task with apocalyptic fervour, telling voters in 1983 that this was “the most important general election to be fought in Britain in this century.”79 Liberty or Death by nuclear fission.
I am not suggesting Thompson was out to lunch, but I sometimes wonder whether he was always in touch with his public despite his personal charisma. His other crusade in the 1980s, when Thatcher’s security state moved into gear to address the IRA protests and bombings, was to campaign against the erosion of British civil liberties, a line of argument consonant with his claim in Whigs and Hunters that the law was never only the prerogative of the rich but a potential resource for the powerless. Did his perorations in praise of the British jury strike a chord with black Britons who had been consistently over-policed and under-protected under Thatcher and New Labour? According to the Macpherson inquiry of 1997, black people were seven and a half times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched and four times more likely to be arrested. In London and in the northern cities close to where Thompson first worked, the proportion of arrests was even higher; perhaps 20 percent of all black males over the age of ten had a brush with the law. This racial profiling carried over into sentencing, where the proportion of black people sent to jail was four to seven times above the national average. No wonder people like Stuart Hall became a little frustrated about Thompson’s admiration for the cherished principle of British liberty. During one session Hall chaired at the Ruskin conference in 1979, he said he was tired of hearing about the Englishman’s birthright. He “didn’t give a damn about it,” he said, an outburst that was edited out of the conference proceedings.80
Edward Thompson was a crusader, a visionary, a man of remarkable talents. Eric Hobsbawm, who did not always agree with him, either politically or historically, remarked that “he was the only historian I knew who had not just talent, brilliance, erudition and the gift of writing, but ‘genius in the traditional sense of the word’ . . . he was a man showered by the fairies at birth with all possible gifts except two. Nature had omitted to provide him with an in-built sub-editor and an in-built compass.”81 Palmer would not worry about the first, because he is almost as prolix as his friend and mentor, thoroughly absorbed by his projects. Like Thompson, he can write late into the night and sometimes through it. He would, I imagine, be more circumspect about the second, if only because he takes the Althusserian episode far more seriously than Hobsbawm, who thought the Althusserian fad was close to the “sell-by date” when Thompson blew up about it. That debate, carried on with electrifying passion by Thompson in an unheated Methodist Hall on Walton Street, Oxford, carried a subtext of political exclusion, of marginalization from a younger generation of historians. The years 1944, 1947, 1956, 1979, and 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, were milestones in Thompson’s career as a historian and public intellectual. Palmer admires him for being true to his convictions, an outsider who never capitulated to capitalism even if he did not always bring the crowd with him, a man who captivated a generation of historians and shaped the launching of anglophone social history, a man who was the perfect counterpoint to Academicus Superciliosus, a man who hated cant and would not brook an academy attuned to business. Palmer has charted Thompson’s life and his struggles with insight and sensitivity, and for this we are in his debt, for we shall never see the likes of E. P. Thompson again.
- 1. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 2nd ed. (London: Penguin, 1968), 9–10.
- 2. Kathleen Wilson, “Class and Condescension,” History Workshop Journal 76 (August 2013): 254.
- 3. A. M. Givertz and Marcus Klee, “Historicizing Thompson: An Interview with Bryan D. Palmer,” Left History 1, no. 2 (1993): 111–12.
- 4. Bryan D. Palmer, A Culture in Conflict: Skilled Workers and Industrial Capitalism in Hamilton, Ontario, 1860–1914 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979), xii, xiv.
- 5. Thompson, The Making, 337–38; E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present 38, no. 1 (December 1967): 56–97, reprinted in E. P. Thompson, Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (London: Merlin Press, 1991), 352–403; Bryan D. Palmer, “Discordant Music: Charivaris and Whitecapping in Nineteenth-Century North America,” Labour/Le Travailleur 3 (1978): 5–62.
- 6. Palmer, A Culture in Conflict, xiii; Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
- 7. Michael B. Katz, The People of Hamilton, Canada West: Family and Class in a Mid-Nineteenth-Century City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975).
- 8. Michael B. Katz, Mark J. Stern, and Michael B. Doucet, The Social Organization of Early Industrial Capitalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); Bryan D. Palmer, “Emperor Katz’s New Clothes; or with the Wizard in Oz,” Labour/Le Travail 13 (Spring 1984): 190–97.
- 9. Thompson and Gutman did on occasion count, but Gutman in particular took the cliometricians to task for not adequately contextualizing quantitative data, most famously in Herbert Gutman, Slavery and the Numbers Game (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), and his response to Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974).
- 10. Richard Cobb, “Historians in White Coats,” Times Literary Supplement, 3 December 1971.
- 11. Bryan D. Palmer, The Making of E. P. Thompson: Marxism, Humanism and History (Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1981), 20.
- 12. Ibid., 34.
- 13. On the latter in America, see Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (New York: Basic Books, 1987). Palmer endorses the argument of the book, particularly the idea that left intellectuals have become prisoners of their own esoteric language within the university and are unable to relate to broader audiences. See Bryan D. Palmer, Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 203–4.
- 14. E. P. Thompson, “Revolution Again! Or Shut Your Ears and Run,” New Left Review 6 (November–December 1960): 29.
- 15. Peter Searby et al., “Edward Thompson as a Teacher: Yorkshire and Warwick,” in Protest and Survival: The Historical Experience: Essays for E. P. Thompson, ed. John Rule and Robert Malcolmson (London: Merlin Press, 1993), 3.
- 16. Raphael Samuel, “British Marxist Historians 1880–1980: Part One,” New Left Review 120 (March–April 1980): 21–96, especially 26–28, 37–43, and 51–55.
- 17. E. P. Thompson, “Revolution Again,” 18.
- 18. On Palmer’s early intellectual odyssey in New York, see Givertz and Klee, “Historicizing Thompson,” 111. Thompson’s New Reasoner was explicitly a post-1956 left intervention, but it featured Thompson’s early essays on radical and working-class history.
- 19. Thompson answered these criticisms in the postscript to the 1968 edition of The Making; see 916–37. These were ongoing issues, as Thompson’s review of Britons revealed. See E. P. Thompson, Persons and Polemics (London: Merlin Press, 1994), 321–31.
- 20. Bryan D. Palmer, E. P. Thompson: Objections and Oppositions (London: Verso, 1994), 93–95.
- 21. Thompson is not always linked to A. L. Morton, but they were both profoundly interested in the traditions of radical dissent and William Morris. See A. L. Morton, A People’s History of England (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1938); A. L. Morton, Freedom in Arms: A Selection of Leveller Writings, ed. Christopher Hill (Berlin: Seven Seas, 1975); A. L. Morton, The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970); A. L. Morton, ed., Political Writings of William Morris (Berlin: Seven Seas, 1973).
- 22. E. P. Thompson, “The Peculiarities of the English,” in The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London: Merlin Press, 1978), 46–47.
- 23. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (London: Penguin, 1972). E. P. Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act (London: Allen Lane, 1975) is dedicated to Hill as the “Master of more than an old Oxford College.”
- 24. Peter Linebaugh, “From the Upper West Side to Wick Episcopi,” New Left Review 201 (September–October 1993): 24.
- 25. Palmer, Objections and Oppositions, 161–64.
- 26. See Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Falling Through the Cracks: E. P. Thompson and the Debate on Base and Superstructure,” in E. P. Thompson: Critical Perspectives, ed. Harvey J. Kaye and Keith McClelland (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1980), 125–52.
- 27. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 84; emphasis original.
- 28. This emerges most clearly in his talk to the Indian History Congress in 1976, “History and Anthropology,” reprinted in Persons and Polemics, 202–27.
- 29. J. L. and Barbara Hammond, The Town Labourer 1760–1832: The New Civilization (London: Longmans, Green, 1917), and their The Skilled Labourer 1760–1832 (London: Longmans, Green, 1919). The term “social economy” is found in the second book, p. 3.
- 30. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 84, 120.
- 31. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters, 29, 31, 138, 160, 164, 183, 211–18, 221, 269, 283–94.
- 32. See Michael Merrill, “Interview with E. P. Thompson,” Radical History Review 3 (1976): 4–25.
- 33. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 239.
- 34. Although never entirely. Thompson’s charivaris contained elements of both, and in his original essay on patrician society and plebeian culture, he stressed the distance between patrician and plebs outside the servant economy. See Thompson, Customs in Common, chapter 8, and E. P. Thompson, “Patrician Society, Plebeian Culture,” Journal of Social History 7, no. 4 (1974): 384–89. For a good example of an impenetrable, rebellious plebeian culture, see David Rollison, “Property, Ideology and Popular Culture in a Gloucestershire Village,” Past and Present 93 (1981): 70–97.
- 35. Perry Anderson, Arguments with English Marxism (London: Verso, 1980), 34–36.
- 36. Stanley D. Chapman, “Fixed Capital Formation in the British Cotton Industry, 1770–1815,” Economic History Review 23, no. 2 (August 1970): 235–66; François Crouzet, Capital Formation in the Industrial Revolution (London: Methuen, 1972); David Levine, Family Formation in an Age of Nascent Capitalism (New York: Academic Press, 1977).
- 37. Palmer, Descent into Discourse, 73–74.
- 38. Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost (London: Methuen, 1965); Harold J. Perkin, The Origins of Modern English Society 1780–1880 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969).
- 39. Palmer, The Making of E. P. Thompson, 74.
- 40. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters, 197–200.
- 41. Among the key texts here are P. G. M. Dickson, The Financial Revolution in England (London: Macmillan, 1967); Colin Brooks, “Public Finance and Political Stability: The Administration of the Land Tax, 1688–1720,” Historical Journal 17, no. 2 (1974): 281–300; Peter Mathias and Patrick O’Brien, “Taxation in England and France, 1715–1810: A Comparison of the Social and Economic Incidences of Taxes Collected for Central Governments,” Journal of European Economic History 5 (1976): 601–50; John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State 1688–1783 (New York: Unwin Hyman, 1989). Whigs and Hunters was published just before Mathias and O’Brien’s important findings on British taxation.
- 42. Thompson, The Making, 896–99. On Bristol, see Steve Poole and Nicholas Rogers, Bristol from Below: Law, Authority and Protest in a Georgian City (Woodridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2017), 325–52.
- 43. Thompson, The Making, 898.
- 44. Palmer, Objections and Oppositions, 97.
- 45. Stuart Hall, “The First New Left: Life and Times,” in Selected Political Writings: The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays, ed. Sally Davison, David Featherstone, Michael Rustin, and Bill Schwarz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 117–41.
- 46. Andrew Glyn and Bob Sutcliffe, British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze (London: Penguin, 1972).
- 47. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 204, 275–76, 290–95.
- 48. Raphael Samuel, ed., People’s History and Socialist Theory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 396–408, quotation on 406; Anderson, Arguments, 25–29.
- 49. Bryan D. Palmer, “The Poverty of Theory Revisited: Or, Critical Theory, Historical Materialism, and the Ostensible End of Marxism,” Left History 1, no. 1 (1993): 79.
- 50. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 252–53, 375–77.
- 51. Palmer, The Making of E. P. Thompson, 121–22, 132–33.
- 52. Bryan D. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890–1928 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Bryan D. Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
- 53. Palmer, Objections and Oppositions, 121. See also Eric Hobsbawm, Interesting Times (London: Allen Lane, 2002), 215–16.
- 54. E. P. Thompson, “Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review 121 (May–June 1980): 3–31.
- 55. Palmer, “The Poverty of Theory Revisited,” 94.
- 56. Thompson, The Making, 97–110, 820–37.
- 57. Ibid., 371.
- 58. Ibid., 218–22.
- 59. Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 221–22.
- 60. Thompson, Customs in Common, 37–38; Thompson, “Patrician Society,” 384. Palmer cites the conversation to illustrate its potentially different voices in Thompson’s texts. See Palmer, Descent into Discourse, 69.
- 61. Roger Chartier, “Text, Symbols, and Frenchness,” Journal of Modern History 57 (December 1985): 682–95; Roger Chartier, Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988); Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (New York: Basic Books, 1985), chapter 2.
- 62. Peter Linebaugh, “Edward Thompson (1924–1993),” Journal of Historical Sociology 7, no. 4 (December 1994): 364.
- 63. Thompson, Customs in Common, 17. Thompson never explicitly cites Karl Polanyi, though some have argued his sense of the long eighteenth century bears similarities. See Tim Rogan, The Moral Economists (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 161–64.
- 64. Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History (London: Pluto Press, 1973), 21–22, 31–35.
- 65. Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
- 66. Joan W. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), chapters 2 and 4.
- 67. Palmer, Descent into Discourse, 81–85.
- 68. Ibid., 85, 180.
- 69. Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Retreat from Class: A New “True” Socialism (London: Verso, 1986); Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Edward Palmer Thompson: In Memoriam,” Studies in Political Economy 43 (Spring 1994): 26–31.
- 70. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986): 22–27.
- 71. Bryan D. Palmer, Cultures of Darkness: Night Travels in the Histories of Transgression [From Medieval to Modern] (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).
- 72. See the illuminating review by Geoff Eley in Left History 8, no. 1 (2002): 106–12.
- 73. Mark Poster, Foucault, Marxism and History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Communication (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984).
- 74. Richard Hoggart, The Use of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957), especially chapter 7. On the crisis of British capital, see Glyn and Sutcliffe, British Capitalism.
- 75. Robert Gregg, “Class, Culture and Empire: E. P. Thompson and the Making of Social History,” Journal of Historical Sociology 11, no. 4 (December 1998): 449. See also Edward John Thompson, An Indian Day (London: Knopf, 1927).
- 76. Stuart Hall, “The Great Moving Right Show” in Davison, Featherstone, Rustin, and Schwartz, Selected Political Writings, 172–86. See also John Solomos, Bob Findlay, Simon Jones, and Paul Gilroy, “The Organic Crisis of British Capitalism and Race: The Experience of the Seventies,” in The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain (London: Routledge, 1982), 9–46.
- 77. Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 103. For Hall’s reflections on the Falklands War, see Stuart Hall, “The Empire Strikes Back, 1982,” in Davison, Featherstone, Rustin, and Schwartz, Selected Political Writings, 200–6.
- 78. Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 69.
- 79. Peter Linebaugh, “Edward Thompson,” 365; emphasis original.
- 80. I was present at the session. On racial profiling, see Huw Benyon and Lou Kushnik, “Cool Britannia or Cruel Britannia? Racism and New Labour,” in Fighting Identities: Race, Religion and Ethno-Nationalism, ed. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (London: Merlin Press 2003), 232–38.
- 81. Hobsbawm, Interesting Times, 215.