The Making of the English Working Classes by E.P.Thompson

This huge book was also a huge success when it came out.  There was a time when it was a common sight on buses and trains, and every bookshop in Britain had it in stock.  In the seventies and eighties it seemed perfectly obvious that everyone was interested in the working class so a long and detailed history of it was a very logical proposition.

Thompson was a Marxist and his idea of the working class, or The Working Class as he would put it, is very much a Marxist one.  As industrialisation gets underway the manual workers drawn into the new occupations create for themselves a consciousness of themselves and their place and set about improving their lot by recourse to organisation and politics.  It actually makes a surprisingly good story.

The big problem with the English working class from the point of view of a Marxist is that they are basically not particularly revolutionary.  They are rebellious enough.  And they are organised enough.  But somehow they never seem to get to the point of overthrowing the establishment.  A pretty serious revolt did break out in Nottingham that could have developed.  But it started raining so they all went home.

People don’t write books like this any more, which is a pity.

 

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