[Marxism] Thompson on Morris

Gary MacLennan gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Fri Apr 8 00:41:57 MDT 2016

I have been very influenced by Tamas' remarks about Thompson in his great
essay Telling the Truth about  class"  <
http://www.grundrisse.net/grundrisse22/tellingTheTruthAboutClass.htm>.  the
following excerpt is very interesting, I feel.



"All versions of socialist endeavour can and should be classified into two
principal kinds, one inaugurated by Rousseau, the other by Marx. The two
have opposite visions of the social subject in need of liberation, and
these visions have determined everything from rarefied epistemological
posi­tions concerning language and consciousness to social and political
attitudes concerning wealth, culture, equality, sexuality and much else. It
must be said at the outset that many, perhaps most socialists who have
sincerely believed they were Marxists, have in fact been Rousseauists.
Freud has eloquently described resistances to psychoanalysis; intuitive
resistance to Marxism is no less widespread, even among socialists. It is
emotionally and intellectually difficult to be a Marxist since it goes
against the grain of moral indignation which is, of course, the main reason
people become socialists.

One of the greatest historians of the Left, E.P. Thompson, has synthe­sized
what can be best said of class in the tradition of Rousseauian socialism
which believes itself to be Marxian.1 The Making of the English Working
Class is universally – and rightly – recognized to be a masterpiece. Its
beauty, moral force and conceptual elegance originate in a few strikingly
unusual articles of faith: (1) that the working class is a worthy cultural
competitor of the ruling class; (2) that the Lebenswelt of the working
class is socially and morally superior to that of its exploiters; (3) that
regardless of the outcome of the class struggle, the autonomy and
separateness of the working class is an intrinsic social value; (4) that
the class itself is constituted by the autopoiesis of its rebellious
political culture, including its re-interpretation of various tradi­tions,
as well as by technology, wage labour, commodity production and the rest.
Whereas Karl Marx and Marxism aim at the abolition of the proletariat,
Thompson aims at the apotheosis and triumphant survival of the proletariat.

Thompson’s Rousseauian brand of Marxism triggered a sustained critique by
Perry Anderson, one that is now half-forgotten but still extremely
impor­tant. Although his terms are quite different from mine, Anderson
sought to show that Thompson’s conviction that he was a Marxist was
erroneous.2 Thompson had participated in a number of movements and
intellectual adventures inspired by Marxism, and his fidelity to radical
socialism – under twentieth-century circumstances – meant loyalty to
Marxism’s revolution­ary legacy. But Thompson had to ignore the
Faustian-demonic encomium of capitalism inherent in Marx, and so he had to
oppose ‘critical theory’, and then theory tout court.3 Anderson later
described this decomposition of ‘Western Marxism’ – away from class to ‘the
people’ – in conceptual terms,4 a diagnosis that has been proved right by
events since."

On Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 3:36 AM, Andrew Pollack via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> New at MIA:
> https://www.marxists.org/archive/thompson-ep/1951/william-morris.htm
> Thanks to Paul Flewers for transcribing this.
> I'd be interested to hear from him and others with more knowledge of the
> period in general and Thompson and/or Morris in particular, what they make
> of this piece.
> On the one hand it's an inspiring appeal for mass agitation on the
> nonmaterial, morally and culturally uplifting features of socialism a la
> Morris's dreams.
> On the other it tries to minimize or deny Stalinist crimes, and thus makes
> me wonder what Thompson in his post-Stalinist days made of Morris (and
> whether his attachment to Morris helped him break from Stalinism).
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