From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In his obituary of Edward Thompson, Duncan Hallas writes, ‘Any honest assessment must conclude that until 1956 Thompson was an uncritical apologist for Stalinism’.
Frankly, this is untrue. In the early 1950s, when I edited Socialist Review, I had a number of long discussions with him. Unlike other members of the Communist Party, he was not arrogant or aggressive. He respected points of view with which he disagreed. What is more, he already had doubts about the latest Stalinist encyclicals on subjects like Lysenko and linguistics.
A number of things went to make Edward Thompson a rebel. First, there was the influence of his father, one of the leaders of the struggle for Indian independence. In the course of that campaign, he had learnt to work with comrades whose political principles differed from his own. Toleration and mutual understanding were necessary ingredients of success.
Second, as his knowledge of the British working class grew greater and greater, he found it an increasing problem to reconcile the wisdom he had acquired with the inanities of Stalinism. The thought control the Communist Party sought to impose was deeply repugnant, a violation of his very being.
Last updated: 17.3.2011