Thompson, Edward Palmer


Thompson, Edward Palmer
(1924–1993)
   Social historian, Marxist theoretician and a key Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) activist, E.P. Thompson wrote the classic text The Making of the English Working Class (1963). The Englishman Thompson served in Africa and Italy during World War II, and in 1946 experienced popular communism in progress as a rail worker in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. He returned to England, committed to Marxism, to graduate from Cambridge University with a history degree, and then teach at the universities of Leeds and Warwick. Thompson was a prominent figure in British and European anti-nuclear movements from the 1950s right through to the 1980s, contributing to debate on disarmament and the Cold War from his leadership positions within the CND and the Committee for European Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a series of essays published in 1983 in Beyond the Cold War, declaring the European peace movement a socialist cause and advocating the removal of all nuclear weapons from Europe to bring about a cessation of tensions. Thompson also wrote that the source of the arms race was the clamor of Western industrial nations to produce weaponry to maintain face and sustain industry, and not a program to meet rational defense requirements.
   From 1942 he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but left in 1956 due to his rejection of Stalinism, fueled, like much of his work, by a severe aversion to absolutism. Motivated by this Soviet-generated crisis on the left, Thompson assisted in the foundation of The New Reasoner journal, offering a voice for others dissenting from orthodox communism. In 1960 this merged with The Universities and Left Review to become The New Left Review, and Thompson sat on the journal’s board until 1963, when he was dismissed over his opposition to theoretical criticism of English Marxist traditions among board members.
   In 1963 the publication of Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class put him at the forefront of social history theory. He affirmed that the English working class came about through an amalgamation of objective conditions and subjective struggle. Social class was a process where individuals developed a shared class consciousness as moral actors, selecting their beliefs and conducting themselves in response to social circumstances thrust upon them. This sat in direct opposition to the determinism of structuralist Marxism which was influential at the time. Thompson continued his criticism of the structuralist school of thought espoused by Louis Althusser, most strongly in The Poverty of Theory (1978), where he condemned the structuralist trait of ignoring concrete historical events in explaining change. Instead structuralists put shifts in society down to abstract categories, for example social structures, implying humans are mere passive agents in history. From Thompson’s perspective, while historical materialism suggests a group of propositions and categories (for example, class and exploitation), these are only substantiated by empirical historical examination, that is, these concepts only gain value when viewed in conjunction with real historical events. Thompson died in 1993 having contributed enormously to the humanist Marxist tradition of reason, and the rejection of theological, structuralist and orthodox Marxism.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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  • Thompson, Edward Palmer —    b. 1924; d. 1993, Upper Wick, Worcestershire    Historian    E.P.Thompson was the leading Marxist social historian of the postwar period. Identified with the New Left, Thompson founded the New Reasoner and published numerous studies and essays …   Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture

  • Edward Palmer Thompson — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thompson. Edward Palmer Thompson (3 février 1924 28 août 1993) est un historien britannique, spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et culturelle du Royaume Uni et particulièrement du monde ouvrier …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Edward P. Thompson — Edward Palmer Thompson Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thompson. Edward Palmer Thompson (3 février 1924 28 août 1993) est un historien britannique, spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et culturelle du Royaume Uni et… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Edward Thompson — Edward Palmer Thompson Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thompson. Edward Palmer Thompson (3 février 1924 28 août 1993) est un historien britannique, spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et culturelle du Royaume Uni et… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Edward thompson — Edward Palmer Thompson Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thompson. Edward Palmer Thompson (3 février 1924 28 août 1993) est un historien britannique, spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et culturelle du Royaume Uni et… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Edward P. Thompson — Edward Palmer Thompson (* 3. Februar 1924 in Oxford; † 28. August 1993 in Worcester) war ein britischer Historiker und Friedensaktivist. Er gilt als einer der Pioniere einer Geschichte von unten und gehörte mit Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm und …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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