The Making of the English Working Class

The Making of the English Working Class



The Pequod Review:

E.P. Thompson’s agenda in The Making of the English Working Class is clear:

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 backward-looking. 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.

But unlike most other left-wing histories (e.g., Howard Zinn), Thompson is honest in his analysis, open to alternate interpretations, and does not allow his agenda to get in the way of the facts. Above all, this remarkable work is just so comprehensive — it isn’t just a masterful social/labor analysis of Industrial Era Britain, but it is also an intellectual, legal, and religious history of the period. And I especially liked his chapter on Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine (“Free-Born Englishman” – online here), which locates their views as representing opposite ends of the class struggle.