THE POVERTY OF THEORY AND OTHER ESSAYS, by E. P. Thompson. New York: Monthly Review Press. 404 pp. $16.00.
E. P. Thompson is best known as the social historian whose magisterial The Making of the English Working Class has had an enduring impact on the writing of labor history on both sides of the Atlantic. His biography of William Morris, recently reissued, has found comparably few readers. Thompson is also a formidable Marxist theoretician and polemicist in the grand tradition. This volume shows us this other Thompson.
Thompson became a member of the British Communist party shortly after the war. In 1956 he and a number of his cothinkers produced a mimeographed journal of discussion within the Party, the Reasoner. When they expressed their solidarity with the Hungarian revolution, they were expelled from the Party. Shortly thereafter, they formed a non-Party Marxist quarterly, the New Reasoner. After a few years it merged with another journal, to become the influential New Left Review. Here Thompson and his coeditors attempted to develop an undogmatic and flexible Marxist perspective. They were particularly concerned to speak in an idiom in tune with the British socialist tradition and removed from the traditional sectarianism of the British left. But in 1963 the Review was captured by a new set of editors led by Perry Anderson, which transformed it into the chief organ of Althusserian Marxism in England....
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