Edward Thompson's Ethics and Activism 1956–1963: Reflections on the Political Formation of The Making of the English Working Class
438 - 456
Contemporary British History
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As well as a work of history, E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Class (London: Gollancz, 1963) was written as a strategic intervention in wider political debates of the late 1950s about working class consciousness, identity, agency and organisation, and as a sustained expression and application of ‘socialist humanism’ to historical subjects. This essay situates the book within these debates, moving between The Making and Thompson's writings within the New Left, to show how the characteristic themes of his work—moral choice and agency, the complexities of working-class consciousness and culture, the role of intellectuals and of an ‘organised minority’—were developed through both. This provides us with a richer context for understanding both the moral sensibility that animates the book and key elements of its historiographical standpoint.