The Making of the English Working Class
|The Making of the English Working Class|
First paperback edition, featuring a detail from a 19th century aquatint by R. D. Havell. In the background John Blenkinsop's locomotive can be seen.
|Author(s)||E. P. Thompson|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz Ltd
|Publication date||1963, 1968, 1980 (rev. ed.)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The Making of the English Working Class is an influential and pivotal work of English social history, written by E. P. Thompson, a notable 'New Left' historian; it was published in 1963 (revised 1968) by Victor Gollancz Ltd, and later republished at Pelican, becoming an early Open University Set Book. It concentrates on English artisan and working class society "in its formative years 1780 to 1832."
Its tone is captured by the oft-quoted line from the preface:
- "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." (Thompson, 1980: 12)
Thompson attempts to add a humanist element to social history, being critical of those who turn the people of the working class into an inhuman statistical bloc. These people were not just the victims of history: Thompson displays them as being in control of their own making. ("The working class made itself as much as it was made.") He also discusses the popular movements that are oft forgotten in history, such as obscure Jacobin societies like the London Corresponding Society. Thompson makes great effort to recreate the life-experience of the working class(es), which is what often marks it out as such an extremely influential work.
Thompson uses the term "working class" rather than "classes" throughout, to emphasize the growth of a working-class consciousness. He claims in the Preface that "in the years between 1780 and 1832 most English working people came to feel an identity of interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs." (Thompson, 1980: 11)
Thompson's re-evaluation of the Luddite movement, and his (unsympathetic) treatment of the influence of the early Methodist movement on working class aspirations are also particularly memorable. (Thompson's parents were Methodist missionaries.)
Thompson's theories on working-class consciousness are at the core of this writing, and their agency was manifested by way of the core English working-class values of solidarity, collectivism, mutuality, political radicalism and Methodism. Thompson wished to disassociate Marxism from Stalinism and his injection of humanistic principles in this book was his way of steering the Left towards democratic socialism as opposed to totalitarianism.
- Prall, S. E. (1976). "Review: Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act". Thompson, E. P. (Author of work under review). History: Reviews of New Books 4 (10): 225. doi:10.1080/03612759.1976.9945576.