Thompson E P

E P Thompson

Known by the initials of his name as much for the quality of his early historical writing, authored as ‘EP’ and not as ‘Edward’, Thompson was an important figure in late 20th century left politics. His reputation rests mostly on his written output – poems, novels, works of politics, philosophy, biography, autobiography and mostly his history.

Born in 1924, he was a member of the Communist Party from his student days, Thompson was profoundly influenced by the example of his brother, who was shot as a partisan in Yugoslavia. After Cambridge, he and his wife, Dorothy, herself later to become a highly regarded author on Chartist history, he went to teach in adult education at the extra-mural department at Leeds University, living in Halifax. In the 1960s, Dorothy was appointed to lecture at Birmingham University and the couple moved to Wick, Worcestershire. Thompson then taught at Warwick University

Thompson was an active member of the Communist Party for some dozen or more years, until the events associated with Hungary in 1956, Thompson’s leaving of the Party was to lead to the New Left trend. This was an attempt to build a movement independent of both the Communist and Labour Parties that rested on Marxian traditions but was liberal in character.

He launched the ‘New Reasoner’ in 1956; the Party’s view was that this was factional and inbalanced internal democracy; working class members would not then have had any degree of access to such a means of communicating views and this put Thompson et al in a privileged position. Thompson chose to view this as censorship and promptly left.

Without doubt his single most significant achievement was ‘The Making of the English Working Class’, first published in 1963. Its impact was monumental in shaping the course of future treatment of social and economic history.

He was especially active in disarmament matters in the early 1980s but this sidetracked into END, and away from CND. EP Thompson died in August 1993, aged 69.

Source: The Observer 29th August 1993

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