E. P. Thompson Labor Historian Old v New Labor History Old Labor History New Labor History • • • • Before the 1960s, most labor historians around the world focused on the history of labor unions. In the United States labor economists at the University of Wisconsin dominated the academic discipline of labor history. Paramount in their research were the development of markets, trade unions, and political philosophies. • In the 1950s, British and other European historians developed the field of social history to correct the structuralist imbalances they perceived in the study of history. Social historians not only sought to enlarge the study of history but to refocus it on the experiences of common people rather than institutions or elites. Old v New Labor History Old Labor History New Labor History • John R. Commons • John Thomas Dunlop • Joseph Rayback • Philip Taft • • • • • E. P. Thompson Herbert Gutman David Brody Melvyn Dubofsky David Montgomery John R. Commons (1862–1945) An American institutional economist and labor historian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. • Themes of Old Labor History • Origins of work forces • Conditions and rewards of labor • Labor v Capital • Labor and the Law • Labor and Politics John R. Commons • Wisconsin School of labor history E. P. Thompson (1924 – 1993) • E. P. Thompson (19241993) was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. • He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British working class in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class (1963). E. P. Thompson (1924 – 1993) • Thompson was one of the principal intellectuals of the Communist Party in Great Britain. • Although he left the party in 1956 over the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he nevertheless remained a "historian in the Marxist tradition," calling for a rebellion against Stalinism as a prerequisite for the restoration of communists' "confidence in our own revolutionary perspectives." E. P. Thompson (1924 – 1993) • Thompson's most influential work was and remains The Making of the English Working Class, published in 1963 while he was working at the University of Leeds. • It told the forgotten history of the first working-class political left in the world in the late-18th and early19th centuries. The Making of the English Working Class • History from below: • “I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' hand-loom weaver, the 'Utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backwardlooking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.” What is “class?” • Thompson's work was also significant because of the way he defined "class". To Thompson, class was not a structure, but a relationship: • “And class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs. The class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born—or enter involuntarily. • Class-consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms. If the experience appears as determined, class-consciousness does not. We can see a logic in the responses of similar occupational groups undergoing similar experiences, but we cannot predicate any law. Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way.” The Making of the English Working Class • By re-defining class as a relationship that changed over time, Thompson proceeded to demonstrate how class was worthy of historical investigation. • He opened the gates for a generation of labor historians, such as David Montgomery and Herbert Gutman, who made similar studies of the American working classes. The Making of the English Working Class • A major work of research and synthesis, the book was also important in historiographical terms: with it, Thompson demonstrated the power of an historical Marxism rooted in the experience of real flesh-and-blood workers. • It remains on university reading lists 40 years after its publication. Voice of the peace movement • From 1980, Thompson was the most prominent intellectual of the revived movement for nuclear disarmament, revered by activists throughout the world. • In Britain, his pamphlet Protest and Survive, a parody on the government leaflet Protect and Survive, played a major role in the revived strength of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. • Just as important, Thompson was, with Ken Coates, Mary Kaldor and others, an author of the 1980 Appeal for European Nuclear Disarmament, calling for a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal, which was the founding document of European Nuclear Disarmament. • Confusingly, END was both a Europe-wide campaign that comprised a series of large public conferences (the END Conventions), and a small British pressure group. Voice of the peace movement • Thompson played a key role in both END and CND throughout the 1980s, speaking at innumerable public meetings, corresponding with hundreds of fellow activists and sympathetic intellectuals, and doing more than his fair share of committee work. He had a particularly important part in opening a dialogue between the west European peace movement and dissidents in Sovietdominated eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, for which he was denounced as a tool of American imperialism by the Soviet authorities. Voice of the peace movement • He wrote dozens of polemical articles and essays during this period, which are collected in the books Zero Option (1982) and The Heavy Dancers (1985). He also wrote an extended essay attacking the ideologists on both sides of the cold war, Double Exposure (1985) and edited a collection of essays opposing Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars (1985). • An excerpt from a speech given by Thompson featured in the computer game Deus Ex Machina (1984). Thompson's own haunting recitation of his 1950 poem of "apocalyptic expectation, "The Place Called Choice," appeared on the 1984 vinyl recording, "The Apocalypso," by Canadian pop group, Singing Fools, released by A&M Records.