The New Left, National Identity, and the Break-Up of Britain (Historical Materialism Book)

The New Left, National Identity, and the Break-Up of Britain (Historical Materialism Book)

Wade Matthews

Language: English

Pages: 324

ISBN: 160846377X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this insightful work Wade Matthews considers the views of Britain's major New Left thinkers—E.P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, Perry Anderson, Stuart Hall, and Tom Nairn —on various 'national questions'. From decolonization to the nationalist implications of Thatcherism, this work charts the continuities and fissures between various New Left perspectives and what has been called 'the break-up of Britain.'

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liberation of Britain’s various colonies and arguing that post-war reconstruction must be properly anti-imperialist and international.25 The war against fascism generated a significant shift in Cole’s interpretation of the national question. The change was evident as early as his 1939 pamphlet War Aims, published shortly after Germany’s invasion of Poland.26 Here, Cole outlined a proposal for a European federation, based on economic and political cooperation, which sought to transcend the

‘without enthusiasm’.72 His association with Raymond Williams’ May Day Manifesto (hereafter Manifesto), a socialist critique of the Wilson Labour Government, revealed a better guide to his engagement with the Labour Party in the 1960s, however. He joined with Williams in editing Manifesto during 1967, often visiting Williams in his Cambridge rooms.73 In a letter to Lawrence Daly, he explained the purpose of the Manifesto. It was designed, Thompson said, ‘to inject a theoretical component into

‘The human fund is regarded as in all respects common, and freedom of access to it as a right constituted by one’s humanity; yet such access, in whatever kind, is common or it is nothing’.77 Culture and Society, however, stopped short of championing revolutionary socialism. Williams had rejected communism, in both theory and practice, and made no direct reference to social democracy as a superior alternative. In place of these dominant senses of socialism, Culture and Society pledged allegiance

have been good on history, as Hall admitted, but there was an argument to suggest that they were stuck there in unhelpful ways too. Just as importantly, ‘A Sense of Classlessness’ illuminated the way that ‘images of the self ’ were increasingly formed outside the sphere of production,74 and in ways antagonistic to socialist consciousness. However, the analytic and political centre of the article was the idea of incorporation – the way that the working-class had become increasingly domesticated to

The argument of the book was that race in Britain had become a lightning rod for arguments about the wider crisis in British society, a crisis whose meaning was increasingly shaped by the New Right.115 As a response to this crisis, Policing the Crisis explained, Thatcherism’s shock troops had marshalled the discourse of law and order and resurrected the spectre of traditional values, including traditional, imperial-inflected, conceptions of national identity. In a remarkably prescient analysis,

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