Sunday, 3 November 2013
E P Thompson on the importance of socialist history groups
I found a fascination in getting to the bottom of everything, in the sources themselves. I got this fascination with the archives. I suppose this plus the critical, comradely help of one or two people in particular, especially Dona Torr, and participation in the Communist Party Historians' Group, in which we had theoretical discussions all the time - this made me into a historian.
The formal and informal exchange with fellow socialists helped me more than anything I found in Cambridge University. This is not to say that one can't, fortunately, sometimes find something in a university, but it is to emphasize that socialist intellectuals ought to help each other. We should never be wholly dependent upon institutions, however benevolent, but should maintain groups in which theory is discussed, and history is discussed and in which people criticise each other. This principle of being able to give and to receive sharp criticism is very important...
What we want to do is to get back to a collective converse again. We need our radical history journals and everything ... what socialists must never do is allow themselves to become wholly dependent upon established institutions - publishing houses, commercial media, universities, foundations. I don't mean that these institutions are repressive - certainly, much that is affirmative can be done within them. But socialist intellectuals much occupy some territory that is, without qualification, their own: their own journals, their own theoretical and practical centers - places where no one works for grades or for tenure but for the transformation of society; places where criticism and self-criticism are fierce, but also mutual help and the exchange of theoretical and practical knowledge; places that prefigure in some ways the society of the future.
EP Thompson, interviewed in 1976, from MAHRO (ed) Visions of History (Manchester, 1983), pp13-14, 22-23