Hall was born and brought up in Jamaica and came to England – to Oxford University – in late adolescence. Although he settled in England and married an English woman (a fellow academic), he retained his Jamaican, ‘colonial’ identity. Nevertheless, he made several crucial contributions to English radicalism. He was a key figure in the New Left, articulating a theorised cultural perspective; a leading policy strategist in CND; arguably, a founder of cultural studies as an academic discipline; a theorist and analyst of race, racism and the legacy of colonialism in English culture; and a leading figure in the revisionist analysis of traditional labourism, along with Eric Hobsbawm and the journal Marxism Today. In all these contexts, Hall was a distinctive voice in twentieth-century English radicalism.
Benn was the most prominent figure on the Labour Left from the early 1980s until his death in 2014. He came from a highly political, Labour, household and was immersed in Labour politics from childhood. Although as a young MP he was a supporter of Gaitskell (and an early enthusiast for new technology), he moved steadily to the left and by the late 1970s had become the de facto leader of the Left in the PLP, advocating workers’ control of industry and a radical, redistributive economic and political programme. He advocated combining parliamentary campaigning for socialism with extra-parliamentary activism-in trade unions and peace movements, for example. Benn was an able administrator, conscientious and efficient in his numerous ministerial roles, and above all an effective, articulate and witty communicator. However, he was unpopular with his colleagues and regarded by many as untrustworthy. He was a regular contributor to political discussion programmes on radio and television; and he did much to popularise, and make accessible, radical ideas in the second half of the twentieth century.
Walter was an articulate, uncompromising anarchist. He wrote widely on anarchist theory and history; and he was a leading activist in the Committee of 100, notably in the ‘Spies for Peace’. He was also a theorist of non-violent direct action and wrote a number of influential articles and pamphlets. He was a trenchant critic and reviewer, a formidable polemical debater, and vehement in his rejection of the theory and practice of Marxism in general and Soviet communism in particular. He became also a prolific writer of letters to the serious press and to intellectual journals. He became Director of the Rationalist Press Association, and an effective propagandist for secular humanism. Walter articulated a reasoned, libertarian perspective on English radicalism.
This chapter summarises the main themes of twentieth-century English radicalism: freedom of thought, speech and assembly; and equality, economically and materially, but also politically and socially. There has also been a belief in the ‘common people’ and the importance of ‘human agency’ in the historical and political process. All those studied in this book have been advocates of extra-parliamentary, popular social movements and of the moral bases of such movements. English radicals have believed passionately that capitalism is an untenable, irrational and immoral system. But they have also held that revolutionary, insurrectionary politics was not a viable position, at least in the context of twentieth-century Britain. New social movements in the early twenty first century – notably the environmentalist campaigns – have buttressed the belief in the necessity for social-movement activism, in addition to ‘orthodox’ political party involvements. ‘Populism’ and ‘identity’ politics have also added to the complexity of the radical environment, and these dimensions to the radical context are also discussed, not least the (different) dangers they represent to radical perspectives and culture. There thus remain challenges for English radicalism in the future: but the tradition remains both relevant, indeed vital, if progressive change is to be achieved.
From CND in the 1950s and 1960s to END in the 1980s
Edward Palmer Thompson was a Popular-Front, social-movement man, a perspective in harmony with the eloquent 'human agency' argument which permeates his historical as well as his political writing. This chapter traces the perspectives through the lens of Thompson's peace campaigning from the late 1940s until his death in 1993. It focuses on his work in the context of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB ) from the immediate post-war years until 1956. The chapter also focuses on his role in the early New Left from 1956 until the early 1960s, his close involvement with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). It discusses his internationally recognised, highprofile role in European Nuclear Disarmament (END) from late 1979 onwards. END was a social movement, working with other analogous movements across Eastern and Western Europe, to move beyond the Cold War, to undermine the orthodoxies of both East and West.
Edward P. Thompson's activities and writings were diverse spanning literature, history, fiction and poetry, biography, adult education, socialist and libertarian politics, and peace-movement activism. This book explores the various aspects of his intellectual and political work, and its legacy to later generations of radical thinkers and activists in Britain and internationally. Thompson taught exclusively literature classes for the first three years at the University of Leeds, and aimed to attain and maintain a university standard of adult education. The book examines the way in which The Making of the English Working Class grew out of Thompson's day-to-day work at Leeds. Although Thompson's fusion of Marxism with social history constituted the central attraction of his work, he himself bore a degree of responsibility for subsequent dismissals of the Marxist dimension in his work. The book examines Thompson's career-long commitment to literature and to the craft of writing, and makes clear some significant continuities and contrasts within Thompson's specifically literary output. Thompson's concept of socialist humanism retained a resonance and distinctiveness for the twenty-first century, which was a defining characteristic of the early New Left after 1956. The content of Thompson's analyses provides us with one of the richest account of the flesh and blood of emancipation, and the experience, suffering, failure and courage of the working class. The book also looks at his peace movement from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s and 1960s to the European Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s.
Edward Palmer Thompson's work was permeated by his deep interest in, and knowledge of, poetry and literature. In his youth Thompson was drawn to Marxism, but for Thompson it was always a humanistic, voluntaristic and libertarian perspective: he was never attracted to deterministic, structuralist interpretations of Marxism. He resisted the somewhat elitist model of university adult education that characterised the University of Leeds's Extramural Department, and encouraged his adult students to use and apply their experience in order to participate fully in their learning. The English radical tradition which he did so much to delineate, and to which he contributed so greatly, remains an inspirational alternative to contemporary neoliberal negativity, and a challenge to politically disabling deterministic arguments and fatalistic political quietism. It was the emphasis on human agency that characterised his political writing and activity, in the early New Left in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Roger Fieldhouse, Theodore Koditschek, and Richard Taylor
Edward Palmer Thompson was a passionate and romantic polymath whose range of intellectual and political achievements was remarkable. This chapter explores various aspects of Thompson's intellectual and political work, and his legacy to later generations of radical thinkers and activists in Britain and internationally. Despite his reservations, the Thompson received many visits from writers, scholars and political activists from India, including both Gandhi and Nehru. Thompson became a leading role in the newly formed, continent-wide European Nuclear Disarmament (END) movement: the most intense political campaign of his life. Thompson senior had worked as a Methodist missionary and teacher in India before and after the First World War. Throughout the 1970s Thompson also wrote and campaigned about a series of what Wade W. Matthews refers to as 'humane restraints' in British society, including the National Health Service, the 'rule of law', the jury system and the right to strike.