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La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra

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Publicado en 1963, La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra es probablemente la obra de historia social inglesa mas imaginativa de posguerra. Sin duda se trata de uno de los libros de historia más influyentes del siglo XX, y está dotado de una extraordinaria calidad histórica y literaria. E.P. Thompson muestra cómo la clase obrera participó en su propia gestación y re Publicado en 1963, La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra es probablemente la obra de historia social inglesa mas imaginativa de posguerra. Sin duda se trata de uno de los libros de historia más influyentes del siglo XX, y está dotado de una extraordinaria calidad histórica y literaria. E.P. Thompson muestra cómo la clase obrera participó en su propia gestación y recrea la experiencia vital de personas que sufrieron una pérdida de estatus y libertad, fueron degradadas y aún así crearon una cultura y una conciencia política de gran vitalidad. La obra estableció la agenda para la “nueva historia social” de las décadas de 1960 y 1970, influyendo sobre muchos historiadores y académicos de otras áreas. Ya en el prefacio, Thompson anotaba las ideas que guiarían a varias generaciones de historiadores: la clase es una relación más que una estructura o una categoría; la clase trabajadora se forjó a sí misma; existía un potencial revolucionario en dicha clase; y, quizás lo más importante, que la responsabilidad de los historiadores era la de “rescatar” a la gente ordinaria del pasado, especialmente aquellos que habían sido derrotados, de la “enorme condescendencia de la posteridad”.


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Publicado en 1963, La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra es probablemente la obra de historia social inglesa mas imaginativa de posguerra. Sin duda se trata de uno de los libros de historia más influyentes del siglo XX, y está dotado de una extraordinaria calidad histórica y literaria. E.P. Thompson muestra cómo la clase obrera participó en su propia gestación y re Publicado en 1963, La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra es probablemente la obra de historia social inglesa mas imaginativa de posguerra. Sin duda se trata de uno de los libros de historia más influyentes del siglo XX, y está dotado de una extraordinaria calidad histórica y literaria. E.P. Thompson muestra cómo la clase obrera participó en su propia gestación y recrea la experiencia vital de personas que sufrieron una pérdida de estatus y libertad, fueron degradadas y aún así crearon una cultura y una conciencia política de gran vitalidad. La obra estableció la agenda para la “nueva historia social” de las décadas de 1960 y 1970, influyendo sobre muchos historiadores y académicos de otras áreas. Ya en el prefacio, Thompson anotaba las ideas que guiarían a varias generaciones de historiadores: la clase es una relación más que una estructura o una categoría; la clase trabajadora se forjó a sí misma; existía un potencial revolucionario en dicha clase; y, quizás lo más importante, que la responsabilidad de los historiadores era la de “rescatar” a la gente ordinaria del pasado, especialmente aquellos que habían sido derrotados, de la “enorme condescendencia de la posteridad”.

30 review for La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I read this whilst at University in 1979; all 900 pages of it. I thought then, and I still think that it is one of the best academic history books ever written. It has its faults and controversies, but it changed the way history was studied following its publication in 1963. Thompson put at the centre the study of class and looked at those outside of the powerful elites of church and state and most closely at the lives of ordinary people; the Luddites, the weavers, early Methodists, followers of I read this whilst at University in 1979; all 900 pages of it. I thought then, and I still think that it is one of the best academic history books ever written. It has its faults and controversies, but it changed the way history was studied following its publication in 1963. Thompson put at the centre the study of class and looked at those outside of the powerful elites of church and state and most closely at the lives of ordinary people; the Luddites, the weavers, early Methodists, followers of the prophetess Joanna Southcott (ever heard of her?), the mob, papists, artisans, agricultural workers, the new factory workers, trade unionists and so on. This is commonplace now, but it wasn’t then. Thompson was a Marxist intellectual in the same tradition and generation as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm; but in my opinion a better historian. Thompson was a communist, who left the party in 1956 following the invasion of Hungary; as did many others. He was interested in the nature of class and the nature of Englishness; the working class being a in struggle with the middle class/bourgeoisie. He was interested because he brought his ideas into the present; he was a strong critic of the labour governments of the 60s and 70s and in later life concentrated on the campaign against nuclear weapons. There are too few women in the book (working class women were even more invisible than working class men); but Thompson’s principal of ignoring “the enormous condescension of posterity” and looking at the lives of the Luddites, followers of “Captain Swing”, Joanna Southcott and the like and taking them seriously still holds. There are parallels; today’s political parties have ignored white working class men in recent years just those people who are now most likely to swallow the ideas of mavericks like Nigel Farrage and vote UKIP. Thompson is interested in why there was no revolution in England and whether Methodism was responsible and in the beliefs and struggles of workers in the industrial revolution. One of the most interesting analyses in the book for me was the dissection of early Methodist worship which has application to all forms of emotional religious worship. At the time I was struggling with my own beliefs and this came as a breath of fresh air. It also caused great controversy, especially one particular line. Thompson referred to emotional religious worship as: “a ritualised form of psychic masturbation" You can imagine how that played with the fundamentalists! Thompson also subjects the language of Methodist hymnody; Come, O my guilty brethren come, Groaning beneath your load of sin! His bleeding heart shall make you room, His open side shall take you in .... to a psychological analysis and puts it in a political and social context. He also develops Lecky’s argument that fundamentalist religion (in particular Methodist evangelicalism here) is a system of religious terrorism and looks at why it was so popular. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, but only a small part of the book. Thompson ranges across the whole plethora of ideas developed from the Civil War and the French Revolution. The pages are full of strange and startling characters. Joanna Southcott is particularly interesting (the last Southcottian died in 2012), but there are many others. Thompson is especially strong in his description of working class organisations. This is well worth reading and I found it a lead into so many other topics.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    This book was first published the year I was born. That ought to perhaps speak against it being a book worth reading today – not because the year I was born was a particularly hopeless one, but because 55 years is a significant amount of time and often, on a topic like this one, new research makes a book like this a bit obsolete. This is also quite a long book, so you might think there could easily be a newer, leaner and snappier version of this somewhere. And there probably is. The point here i This book was first published the year I was born. That ought to perhaps speak against it being a book worth reading today – not because the year I was born was a particularly hopeless one, but because 55 years is a significant amount of time and often, on a topic like this one, new research makes a book like this a bit obsolete. This is also quite a long book, so you might think there could easily be a newer, leaner and snappier version of this somewhere. And there probably is. The point here is that this book will continue to be read even if such an alternative recent book proves to be better aimed at our diminished concentration spans and so on. That will be due as much to the method used in this book, rather than just its literal content. But we will get to that at the end of this review. I’m not going to spend any time on the relationship this book has to Methodism, other than to say that while Methodism doesn’t come out of this book terribly well, and I can definitely see that if I were a Methodist the thought of a dartboard with this guy’s face on it would seem pretty appealing, this book is probably kinder to Methodism than Methodists might come away thinking. He makes it clear that Methodism was in a difficult position since it was trying to be the religion of both the capitalist class and the working class – and as the interests of those two classes diverged, that made Methodism being one thing to all sides increasingly difficult. There were stands that needed to be made, and sides that needed to be taken – and too often those stands were going to put one side off in equal measure to how they made the other side happy. However, this is a book about the making of the working class, and in many ways that class was made by the organisational structures the members of that class were able to bring to what was the nascent trade union movement. And those organisational structures seem to have been borrowed from those of the Methodist churches. One of the things I found particularly interesting here was the discussion of the Luddites. I’ve been taught about the Luddites since high school and the story is always pretty much the same. The Luddites weren’t particularly wrong for feeling screwed over by the new machines that were taking their jobs, but what their efforts proved beyond any doubt was the utter pointlessness of standing in the path of ‘progress’. Like the story of King Canute and the tide, taking arms against the rise of the machines is an exercise in utter futility at best, and self-defeating insanity at worse, since ultimately to win would be to lose more. Luddite today means a pointless protester against the inevitable forward progress of the machine. The problem here is that we have virtually no voice from those who were Luddites able to speak to us now, since they were often illiterate while also being organised in extremely illegal and therefore remarkably secretive societies. History, therefore, has only left us the voices of those who despised them, those whose machines they had destroyed. Rarely has the phrase ‘history is written by the victors’ seemed more apt. What is made plain here is that the Luddites were not merely pointlessly protesting that their jobs were being replaced by machines – rather, they didn’t even feel this was quite the case. The work they did was highly skilled and so also very well remunerated. The work the machines did lacked the quality of these workers skills, but it was being sold as if it was of the same quality – and so this outpouring of a lower quality product also lowered the esteem in which their own craft would be held. Often all they were asking for was for the lower quality product to be referred to as lower quality. Furthermore, the capitalists who were introducing the machines that were turning this lower quality product out were simultaneously depressing the wages of these artisans’ fellow workers, to levels where it was inevitable there would be a severe conflict between the workers and their employers. What is made clear in this history is that those employers that continued to pay their workers a fair wage were spared having their machines destroyed, even while the machines in the workplaces around them were destroyed. In short, this was about wages more than it was about machines. The other point to be made here is that even workers meeting as a group of people at this time was frequently to be seen (and treated) as a criminal act. That is, there was no means available for those who became the Luddites to further their own interests other than by illegal means. There was no way to apply pressure on their employers and so the only means available to them were violent protests and the smashing of the property of the employers. Rather than this being an act of rebellion against modern technology – that is, how Luddites are currently remembered – this was a protest against absolute power in the hands of employers over their employees – and this was therefore an early form of trade union activity – that is, an early form of working class solidarity and an expression of working class identity. Thompson makes it clear that there isn’t a single ‘thing’ that is the working class – but rather that all classes in society only exist in relation to one another. That is, classes are not born as a series of pre-decided characteristics, but rather they are born out of their relationships with the other classes in society, and it is only in those relationships that the interests of one class become clear when compared to those of another – that is, in life, rather than as pre-decided statements of fact. For the Luddites, a highly paid group of people who were, nonetheless, required to sell their skills to the highest bidder, the actions of the capitalist class undermined their ability to provide themselves with a livelihood or to protest against changes that directly impacted them. The smashing of machines was anything but a random act of seeking to hold back the tide of history, but rather an act of self-defence. Now, even though I found this fascinatingly interesting, it isn’t really why this book ought to continue to be read today – although, like I’ve said already, I’ve read lots of book that mention the Luddites and very few of them put them in this sort of context. The reason why this book is so interesting is that to uncover this history the book couldn’t really rely solely on the official history of the period. That history, as I’ve already said, was written by the enemies of the Luddites. He has gotten some material from court records, statements and so on of those who had been captured as Luddites and that is part of the official historical record. However, many of these people had taken oaths to remain silent – and the secret nature of the organisation also meant that many of them didn’t know the extent of the organisation anyway. This was effectively a guerrilla movement, they are called Luddites after ‘General Ludd’, someone how didn’t actually exist, but was used as a rallying point for those who fought with this general. And so the organisation had many layers of secrecy and clearly remarkable levels of loyalty too. And as I’ve said, many of those involved in the movement were illiterate, or able to read, but not to write, something we often forget are quite different skills. Because of all this, standard historical sources only allow us to go so far in understanding the motivations and even actions of these people. However, beside the official material available, there is also a rich oral tradition, including a folk tradition of ballads and poetry, and this is used here to remarkable affect. This broadening of the source material available to be used in constructing a history of this kind not only provides the voiceless with a voice, but it gives us that voice in remarkable richness, depth and passion. We are given here a history influenced by the early expressions of cultural theory – and it is one that takes seriously the voices of the people while seeks it out where it is most likely for us to be still able to hear those voices. This really is a remarkable piece of work. I enjoyed it very much.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Somehow I suspect that more ink has been spilled on the insignificant Battle of Waterloo - insignificant because if not defeated ten miles south of Brussels on the 18th of July Napoleon would have been beaten somewhere else at a later date - than on Primitive Methodism yet to my thinking it is Primitive Methodism and other similar religious movements has had more of an impact on the outlooks, worldviews and cultures of millions of English lives (all the more so considering the knock on impacts o Somehow I suspect that more ink has been spilled on the insignificant Battle of Waterloo - insignificant because if not defeated ten miles south of Brussels on the 18th of July Napoleon would have been beaten somewhere else at a later date - than on Primitive Methodism yet to my thinking it is Primitive Methodism and other similar religious movements has had more of an impact on the outlooks, worldviews and cultures of millions of English lives (all the more so considering the knock on impacts on voting patterns and participation in public life). It is those millions who, to varying extents, get some coverage in this book. The downside of Thompson's book was having read it I didn't have any sense of there having been an English Working Class that came to be through a given historical process (except possibly indirectly by implication). The upside of this book is it is a hugely wide-ranging (Methodism, Primitive Methodism, Chartism & reform of Parliament, Joanna Southcott & her followers etc etc) look at England at the beginning of the 19th century from a perspective other than that of the Government and generally other than that of the Upper classes. That is reason alone to read it. This is the perspective on being governed, being spied upon, having agents provocateur work among you and upon you. Something that thanks to this book we can see has been a constant thread in British history since the French revolution yet rarely comes to the surface (view spoiler)[thinking here of the spying on A.J.P. Taylor presumably for his support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, spying on Christopher Hill and Hobsbawm in contrast seems par for the course. Also undercover police activities among various groups that have come up in the courts of late. (hide spoiler)] I came away with a sense of the vibrancy, diversity and activity of masses of people who can easily be passed over in political histories or who are only glimpsed as they are transported to Australia, charged by the yeoman cavalry or ignored altogether in favour of the elegance of the Regency era. Another view

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Well, it took me darn near a month to finish this monster (800+ pages) of a book. Can't say I regret the experience, though. Truly , this is a masterpiece, both in terms of its substance and its approach. I could quite easily write more then a thousand words on this book, but hey, this is Amazon, right? Before I begin, I would like to state up front that I am not a historian or a graduate student of history. Please forgive me if my review contains incorrect statements. "The Making of the English W Well, it took me darn near a month to finish this monster (800+ pages) of a book. Can't say I regret the experience, though. Truly , this is a masterpiece, both in terms of its substance and its approach. I could quite easily write more then a thousand words on this book, but hey, this is Amazon, right? Before I begin, I would like to state up front that I am not a historian or a graduate student of history. Please forgive me if my review contains incorrect statements. "The Making of the English Working Class" is precisely what its (awkward) title describes: a history of the developments leading to the emergence of the modern industrial working class in England (and Scotland, sort of. Wales and Ireland are excluded, although Irish immigrants living in England to figure in some parts of the book). The time period covered is roughly the 1790's to the 1840's. Thompson starts with a description of "Dissent", discusses the influence of the French Revolution on that tradition (Dissent), spends a good chunk of the book describing the effect of the industrial revolution on the lives and lifestyles of the workers in industrial England, and then spends an equal amount of time describing the reaction of the workers and their leaders to this adjustment in circumstances. Along the way, Thompson takes a hatchet to historians on the left, right, and center. His section on the change in circumstances of the workers in England is most critical of writers like F.A. Hayek, i.e. those writers who try to say that the industrial revolution "wasn't that bad" or "wasn't bad at all" for the workers. He devotes a good part of Part II of the book to attacking the methods of statistical or economic history. His preference is to use documentary evidence of the time. In this way, the book (published in the 60's) is a forerunner of historical "postmodernism"(Oh, please forgive me for the term), where authors abandon "objective" evidence (economic statistics) in favor of "subjective" evidence (pamphlets, letters and newspapers). I guess that's hardly a revolutinary arguement now-a-day, but back then, I can hardly imagine. His section on the reaction of workers to the industrial revolution is rather more critical to historians of the left and center, who sought to discount the violence associated with the Luddite movement as somehow unrepresentative of the working class movement in England. Thompson's revisionist history of the Luddite movement is a tour de force. Really, it's breathtaking. In my opinion, the book kind of loses steam after that section. Thompson has some harsh words for the London based "leaders" of the workers movement, and I felt his discussion of Owenism left too much to the readers imagination. I don't suppose this book was meant for someone with only a loose grounding in English history, but none the less, that's what I have, so I'm just stuck. To the extent that I have anything critical to say about this book, it's that Thompson at times presupposes a graduate level education in English history. I haven't read AJP Taylor or Hayek or any of the other authors Thompson attacks. IN the end, though, I felt like it didn't hurt my enjoyment of this book. I would highly recommend it, although you should set aside a good chunk of time to make your way from beginning to end.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David M

    Been thinking about this book again. I'm thinking we - that is, American society - could use an encyclopedic work called The Makings of a Permanent American Underclass. It would sort of be like Thompson's classic in reverse; rather than the story of how various bonds of solidarity formed against a background of intense material deprivation, it would start with a situation of general affluence and show how class war then recommenced from above, eroding all social bonds to the point where we pract Been thinking about this book again. I'm thinking we - that is, American society - could use an encyclopedic work called The Makings of a Permanent American Underclass. It would sort of be like Thompson's classic in reverse; rather than the story of how various bonds of solidarity formed against a background of intense material deprivation, it would start with a situation of general affluence and show how class war then recommenced from above, eroding all social bonds to the point where we practically lack the concept of solidarity anymore. This is the story of neoliberalism, I think. I floated this idea to an old commie friend of mind, and he got back to me with some insight (he's about the same age as me) As I see it, the emergent underclass has no clear analogue in all of human history. There are older people living on reduced incomes but who own houses and have no student debt, yes. But it is primarily the very young who constitute this giant, unruly mass. The older generation at least has some memory of group solidarity (unions, churches, bowling leagues); but, for the young, I fear the worst. It seems to me that in our condition does indeed revert back to that of the early English working class, the days when riots, rather than strikes, were the dominant mode of political contention. It seems to me that we are inevitably reverting back to an era when riots MUST be the dominant mode of political contention: unemployment, underemployment, deskilling, and the decimation of organized labor make it inevitable that the strike-form will die out sooner rather than later. As I see it, the need for electoral strategy emerges from the inevitability of the riots to come. Rather than leaders who will merely suppress the next anti-cop riot, we need officials who are willing to communicate with social movements. The issue, then, is two fold: a lack of acceptable politicians that fit this bill (Sanders, Keith Ellison would be two) and a complete lack of meaningful leadership that can reasonably claim to represent and articulate the demands of riotous social movements. Anarchists often speak as if it is necessary to "organize" riots - they are coming one way or the other, and anarchists will play, at best, a trivial role in them. The important thing for activists, then, is to make the state recognize riots as part of political discourse, and respond accordingly. The legacy of bread riots is kept alive across most of the world: a founding (if often suppressed) myth in France and Russia, for instance. And these riots have been on-going across the Global South since the onset of political modernity. The US, however, a perpetual land of affluence from the beginning, has no real sense of the bread riot in its collective memory or its collective political imaginary. For us, the riot can really only be the race riot. As I see it, the catastrophe of the Trump presidency is that future suppression will be swift and brutal, and it is really only a matter of time before he follows Obama's own precedent to its logical conclusion and uses drones on American citizens on US soil. Even worse, it seems clear to me that something even worse is around the corner: if the Tea Party was a reaction to disappointment with neocon leadership, and Trump is a reaction to anger at the Tea Party, what will come when Trump's staunchest supporters are confronted with the reality of a man who doesn't appear to be very interested in following through with some of his more dire promises? Of course the deportations will continue and perhaps accelerate, but Trump must surely realize the economic devastation that would occur if he actually tried to rapidly deport 3 million people. It seems clear to me that, ultimately, Trump can never live up to his grandiose pledges on simply removing Latinos and on disciplining blacks. What happens when his dumbfuck supporters realize as much? I'm mostly just trying out some ideas here, I guess. I wonder how much the rabble - a largely suppressed concept in political modernity, but a prominent one for the ancients (and Machiavelli!) - will become significant again. It seems clear to me that a major strategic mistake of the original Black Panthers was to focus on organizing the lumpen elements of the proletariat rather than industrial workers - this left them with a constant distraction of criminality and absurd internal violence. What comes now, when the industrial proletariat has ceased to exist and all that remains is a young, largely urbanized, underclass?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    A truly excellent work of history. I'd had this on my mental "to read" list for a very long time. I'm glad I finally read it. Thompson pulls together a massive amount of research to show how the working class became a group that saw itself as a group. But he shows in great detail the ups and downs of different movements as well as those prominent in them.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I've been meaning to read this book since having it recommended to me by older high school students during the sixties. Its size and the fear that it would be highly technical put me off. Ironically, I misjudged, just as I had with Das Kapital. Neither Thompson nor Marx were as difficult as I'd expected. Thompson's book is, as it says, about the English--not the Scottish, not the Welsh, not the Irish, except insofar as they worked in England--lower orders from approximately 1789 (the inspiration I've been meaning to read this book since having it recommended to me by older high school students during the sixties. Its size and the fear that it would be highly technical put me off. Ironically, I misjudged, just as I had with Das Kapital. Neither Thompson nor Marx were as difficult as I'd expected. Thompson's book is, as it says, about the English--not the Scottish, not the Welsh, not the Irish, except insofar as they worked in England--lower orders from approximately 1789 (the inspiration of the French Revolution) until about 1832 (the Reform Bill). I write "lower orders" as the notion of a working class arose, according to Thompson, during this period. And this, "the working class", is not, in his acceptation, in the retrospective sense imposed by subsequent sociologists and historians exploring the origins of such. No, rather, as the title suggests, it is in the sense of what some of the lower orders made of themselves during this period. Very much this book is about the self-consciousness and agency of English working men and women. Although Thompson is usually identified as a Marxist and Communist, he displays none of the bad habits of either. There is no hidebound rhetoric here, nor Procrustrean schemata. This is real historical scholarship, well-documented, as coherent as a fair appraisal of the evidence would seem to allow. It is also, the minds of people being of central concern, a cultural history. While generally dry and matter-of-fact, occasionally the author's humanity, his motive to begin this kind of work in the first place, is made explicit. Insosfar as Marx and Engels (for whom this period was also history, albeit recent history) are mentioned, and it isn't often, it is often to criticize or qualify their testimony. A warning to American readers: This is an Englishman's history of an England of two centuries ago. Just as one of them might not know of the Battle of Breed's (Bunker--sic) Hill, so it is quite likely that the general American reader might not already know much that the author takes for granted. Peterloo? Cato Street?--I kept a copy of The Columbia Desk Encyclopedia close at hand.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This book has been my Everest. It was first shown to me by my lovely husband who has very different reading habits and a very different class background to me. To me nanny is ya ma's ma. To him his nanny was someone employed by his mum and dad to watch him when they were at work....you get the drift. He reads a LOT of non-fiction and loves this kinds of deep, trying tome whereas I am a lover of fiction, but he pointed it out as a really important text for understanding the deep class issues ingr This book has been my Everest. It was first shown to me by my lovely husband who has very different reading habits and a very different class background to me. To me nanny is ya ma's ma. To him his nanny was someone employed by his mum and dad to watch him when they were at work....you get the drift. He reads a LOT of non-fiction and loves this kinds of deep, trying tome whereas I am a lover of fiction, but he pointed it out as a really important text for understanding the deep class issues ingrained in the history of our English heritage. So he bought it for me...like 2 years ago. And here we are I finally finished it! This book does exactly what it says on the tin with nobs on. Do you want to know everything there is to know about the working class in England between the 18th and 19th century that shaped the way we see class today? Then buy and read this book. By no means is this a fun and frothy beach read, this is a series academic text and has been incredibly useful in my own literary studies to provide evidence for otherwise spurious claims. If you're an academic in history, literature, sociology etc interested in the 17th, 18th and 19th century or in how class is constructed via religion, laws and revolution then this is the book for you. Great for dipping in and out of as it's very well indexed and contains more than enough references to other texts to keep you going forever.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    OK, it's been on my currently-reading shelf for a long time. When I seemed to stall out at around p. 632, I know many of you were worried I would never finish it. But never fear, I braved the final 200 pages and made it all the way to the end. A book so long contains many different things. Some passages were indeed difficult to get through. But many were absolutely fascinating. The final chapter, about the Reform Bill of 1832, seemed particularly poignant in the light of the current debacle of hea OK, it's been on my currently-reading shelf for a long time. When I seemed to stall out at around p. 632, I know many of you were worried I would never finish it. But never fear, I braved the final 200 pages and made it all the way to the end. A book so long contains many different things. Some passages were indeed difficult to get through. But many were absolutely fascinating. The final chapter, about the Reform Bill of 1832, seemed particularly poignant in the light of the current debacle of health care reform. That is, a story of reform being co-opted by all the wrong people and, having begun with hopes for universal franchise, ending with an alliance between the aristocracy and the new middle-class designed to cut out the working class. Not quite sure if there are exact parallels, but somehow it feels timely.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    With the changes of the Enlightenment, French Revolution, and industrial revolution capitalism, as we know it. was gestating. Without sounding Marxist the working class as a collective identity was also being forged by these events. With the mix of oppression, industrialism, new thinking from revolutions outside England working people in a hodgepodge of groups began to think of themselves and their lot as labor as a collective that would begin to shape subsequent politics. things got to come fro With the changes of the Enlightenment, French Revolution, and industrial revolution capitalism, as we know it. was gestating. Without sounding Marxist the working class as a collective identity was also being forged by these events. With the mix of oppression, industrialism, new thinking from revolutions outside England working people in a hodgepodge of groups began to think of themselves and their lot as labor as a collective that would begin to shape subsequent politics. things got to come from somewhere and that is True for the working class of England.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    I will fully admit that this rating is because I had an extremely difficult time following all the moving pieces; I'm not as familiar with English history as I should be, so the names that I probably should know, I didn't, and that did not help much, but Thompson shifts around so often that it's also dizzying geographically and temporally. I did love the immense number of dunks on economic historians he made, and he had some really important points for the field of labor history that I was able I will fully admit that this rating is because I had an extremely difficult time following all the moving pieces; I'm not as familiar with English history as I should be, so the names that I probably should know, I didn't, and that did not help much, but Thompson shifts around so often that it's also dizzying geographically and temporally. I did love the immense number of dunks on economic historians he made, and he had some really important points for the field of labor history that I was able to recognize even as a person unfamiliar with the content. It also read much faster than I thought it would! Given the enormous size of the book, it goes by pretty quickly!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vicky P

    Read for a graduate course in history; it fostered a lot of good discussion and is a good focal point for discussing the historiographical lineage of social history and the history of working class people in England in the 18th/19th/20th centuries. I personally found it not to my liking as something to read, but it's dense and packed with detail and probably has more to it than I still realize.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

    I decided to actually read this monster because Ian Bone recommended it so highly in Bash The Rich. 937 pages later (not the edition pictured), I feel like I climbed a mountain. Thompson steers a course between older, "sentimental" historians who paint the English workers and artisans of the early 1800s as lovable sweethearts who never planned insurrections or sabotage and "ideological" historians who view the horrors of the industrial revolution and the development of modern capitalism as inevi I decided to actually read this monster because Ian Bone recommended it so highly in Bash The Rich. 937 pages later (not the edition pictured), I feel like I climbed a mountain. Thompson steers a course between older, "sentimental" historians who paint the English workers and artisans of the early 1800s as lovable sweethearts who never planned insurrections or sabotage and "ideological" historians who view the horrors of the industrial revolution and the development of modern capitalism as inevitable and resistance is not only futile but also just plain wrong. Instead of those poles, Thompson finds the half that's never been told and prepares the way for future "people's histories." It's probably ridiculous to write a goodreads-sized review of this thing, so I'll just focus on the bits that impressed me the most. The oath taking stuff is cool. I think we should do more of that in our organizations today. The story of "Oliver," an agent provocateur whose import is large enough to occupy a sizable part of the book, is incredible. The Irish are, as always, awesome. The Luddites... man, nobody uses that word correctly nowadays... that was an exciting chapter. Finally, the concluding chapter had me looking in other reference sources for some of the fascinating demagogues Thompson analyzes. Yeah, it's long, and jumps right in to details that seem strange if, like me, you don't already have some grounding in that period in England, but the subject matter is exciting stuff. Rebels and hangings and secret societies and cults and the occasional uprising... well worth the effort.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    Excerpt from my essay: Evidence is perhaps the greatest problem in historical methodology. Whether a historical event is recent or remote, the historian is forced to proclaim a definitive analysis from incomplete information. While some factual conclusions can be made with relative certainty based upon hard data, other aspects of society are less easily measured, such as happiness or spiritual health. Should a historian be given the right to generalize about intangible sentiments that cannot be q Excerpt from my essay: Evidence is perhaps the greatest problem in historical methodology. Whether a historical event is recent or remote, the historian is forced to proclaim a definitive analysis from incomplete information. While some factual conclusions can be made with relative certainty based upon hard data, other aspects of society are less easily measured, such as happiness or spiritual health. Should a historian be given the right to generalize about intangible sentiments that cannot be quantified in documentation? E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class addresses this dilemma. Thompson does more than provide us with foundational knowledge of life among the masses during the British Industrial Revolution. He constructs a fascinating case study on how historians convey intangible evidence. Throughout the book, Thompson draws from testimony and trends in an attempt to holistically evaluate the quality of life of the English working class during the transition to modern industry. Since quality of life cannot be measured statistically, Thompson attempts at times to generalize and infer, based on available documentation, how we may perceive the emotional welfare of the common populace.

  15. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

    One of the great classics of radical history, and certainly a classic of social history of any persuasion. Thompson was a dissident Marxist, but his radicalism derived in many ways from that very English tradition of the Dissenting churches and the pre-Marxist labour movement. "Making of the English Working Class" looks at how disparate groups of lower-class Englishmen---- not just workers in the new steam-driven industries, but artisans and small farmers and skilled craftsmen and small shopkeep One of the great classics of radical history, and certainly a classic of social history of any persuasion. Thompson was a dissident Marxist, but his radicalism derived in many ways from that very English tradition of the Dissenting churches and the pre-Marxist labour movement. "Making of the English Working Class" looks at how disparate groups of lower-class Englishmen---- not just workers in the new steam-driven industries, but artisans and small farmers and skilled craftsmen and small shopkeepers as well ---came to see themselves as part of a working class, as a group defined by wage labour and social instability, a group that self-consciously saw its interests as separate from the mill owners and landlords who governed England. Thompson focuses on the era from 1790 through the First Reform Bill and the Chartists, an era he calls the "young manhood" of the English labour movement, the era of repression of any ideas tainted with Jacobinism, the era of urbanisation and the coming of the new industrial world, and his writing is passionate, vivid, insightful, clear. This is a classic work, and a key book for anyone interested not just in English history but in economic change and the defenses social groups can raise against the claim that the needs of "the economy" are paramount.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    A seminal book that I first read at uni and I have come back to three times since. It is a book with an agenda whose author makes no pretense at hiding his sympathies and for which I remain an admirer. It looks at the cultural basis for the evolution of the workers into a class in the factory environment of Victorian Britain. In so doing he describes the class response of the wealthy and privileged to the aspirations of the poor and their traditional reaction of repression. It is still a pleasure A seminal book that I first read at uni and I have come back to three times since. It is a book with an agenda whose author makes no pretense at hiding his sympathies and for which I remain an admirer. It looks at the cultural basis for the evolution of the workers into a class in the factory environment of Victorian Britain. In so doing he describes the class response of the wealthy and privileged to the aspirations of the poor and their traditional reaction of repression. It is still a pleasure to read, tempered only by a recognition that the defence of property and privilege remains the base motivation of British government - otherwise why no effective wealth tax and why the continued protection of tax avoiders?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    One of the truly great pieces of British history in which Thompson, in his own words, set out ""to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' handloom weaver, the 'utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southgate, from the enormous condescension of posterity' and does so brilliantly. An enormous powerful book that helped reshape British social history, refocused English labour history, and shifted Marxist British history in fundamental ways. And on top of One of the truly great pieces of British history in which Thompson, in his own words, set out ""to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' handloom weaver, the 'utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southgate, from the enormous condescension of posterity' and does so brilliantly. An enormous powerful book that helped reshape British social history, refocused English labour history, and shifted Marxist British history in fundamental ways. And on top of that, quite brillliant.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    For anyone who ever wanted to know more about the other 99% of the British population - those who actually worked for a living - this is THE BOOK. While the overall size of the book may turn people away, at several hundred pages long, it is packed with information that will keep you glued to the pages and not wanting to put it down - and, it is NON-FICTION. I absolutely loved this book, it now has a place in my bookcase because it is just that good.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    it took me SIX MONTHS to read this, but I regret nothing

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    A brilliant combination of good writing, an innovative approach to studying the past, and insightful conclusions about British society during the Industrial Revolution. For a Marxist, Thompson has a profoundly non-determinist understanding of social class. He believes class emerges from specific human interactions, not preordained social factors. Thompson doesn’t think class is a static historical entity, but he doesn’t write class off as merely an idea, either. There is something there, in his t A brilliant combination of good writing, an innovative approach to studying the past, and insightful conclusions about British society during the Industrial Revolution. For a Marxist, Thompson has a profoundly non-determinist understanding of social class. He believes class emerges from specific human interactions, not preordained social factors. Thompson doesn’t think class is a static historical entity, but he doesn’t write class off as merely an idea, either. There is something there, in his telling: “Class is defined by men as they live their own history, and, in the end, this is its only definition” (11). The book studies the formation of workers’ social relations in England between 1780 and 1830, in opposition to ruling elites. He regards the Jacobin movement, the work ethic and laborers’ experiences during the Industrial Revolution, Methodism, and “plebeian Radicalism” that began with the Luddite movement as the foundations for the 19th-century working class. Egalitarian traditions among workers figure into the narrative, but Thompson omits Welsh, Scottish, and Irish labor conditions, as he thinks these countries had distinct labor environments. (He does touch on Irish who moved to England.) By bringing culture into the conversation, Thompson shows how Marxists were wrong to look at economics to the exclusion of other historical factors. This is the method by which Thompson weaves an engrossing yarn of workers' struggles, innovations, and dreams for fulfilling work.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris Caden

    I’m normally reluctant to touch anything larger than 500 pages but The Making, at 900-odd pages, is a readable masterpiece throughout. I kept questioning how it was possible to research something which included so much detail about the individual lives of ordinary people alongside arguments which passionately, and often morally, assessed the major trends of the period. The horrors of industrialisation, class warfare, the loss of customs and traditions, English radicalism, Thomas Paine, battles o I’m normally reluctant to touch anything larger than 500 pages but The Making, at 900-odd pages, is a readable masterpiece throughout. I kept questioning how it was possible to research something which included so much detail about the individual lives of ordinary people alongside arguments which passionately, and often morally, assessed the major trends of the period. The horrors of industrialisation, class warfare, the loss of customs and traditions, English radicalism, Thomas Paine, battles over freedom of the press and the early days of industrial trade unionism all appear here next to detailed local stories of oppression and resistance and, when combined, these stories show the formation of working class consciousness. The book was especially interesting when analysing Methodism and Owenism and how, when the working class applied these theories to their specific communities and circumstances, they transformed them into more empowering creeds than originally intended. First published in the early 60s, the book has some obvious weaknesses and looks most outdated for its lack of serious analysis of working class women during this time. I found this book particularly relevant for showing how radical technological change, combined with repressive politics and an exploitative economic system, drove inequality and impoverished a lost generation who had no protections against unrestrained capitalism. I couldn’t help but think of present technological developments and the choices we, as a society, will have to make when managing the consequences of automation.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mardin Aminpour

    In The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson sets out 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.” The book serves as a response and a reinterpretation of history against the claims of scholars like T. S. Ashton who sought to demonstrate empirically the improvement of the English working class under the Industrial Revoluti In The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson sets out 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.” The book serves as a response and a reinterpretation of history against the claims of scholars like T. S. Ashton who sought to demonstrate empirically the improvement of the English working class under the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century England. In order to restore agency to the working class, lost to statistical research and a set of data with which to gauge the dynamics of the period, Thompson offers a radical redefinition of class-consciousness as a historical relationship grounded in the experience of the working class. In other words, “class,” according to Thompson “is defined by men as they live their own history, and, in the end, this is its only definition.” The working class emerges out of the pages of Thompson’s book as a class that “made itself as much as it was made.” Covering the years from 1790s to 1830s, Thompson views this period as a crucible for the emergence of the industrial working class crippled by a combination of economic exploitation and political oppression. He traces the roots of working class radicalism to the Jacobins of the 1790s, arguing that the economic and political tensions along with the tightening hold of a rigid disciplinarian Methodism over the English society led to a series of protests. The London Corresponding Society (L.C.S.), a radical association founded by artisans, figures prominently in the book as a group that championed Thomas Paine’s advocacy of natural rights and equality in the 1790s. The L.C.S sought to apply the ideas in Paine’ The Rights of Man to British constitutionalism. Their radicalism, however, alarmed the government to the threat of an impending revolution in England similar to the French Revolution. The Reign of Terror in France prompted the English aristocracy and the newly emerging class of industrialists to enter into an alliance against the English Jacobins such as L.C.S. A fierce crackdown ensued and the counter-revolutionary movement ushered in a catastrophic phase for the working class. Displaced from a familiar world where they worked their professions, weavers, artisans, shoemakers, and others burst onto the political scene with furor and demanded a larger share in parliamentary representation. Thompson describes this period as the resurgence of the Putney Debates among a generation that grew up on the anti-aristocratic morals of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The 1811-13 Luddite crisis embodied resistance against the machine as an Apollyon that devoured jobs. The devastating impact of Napoleonic Wars led to an increase in political radicalism that resulted in the Peterloo Massacre of 1816. The agitation continued unabated through “proliferation of trade union activity, Owenite propaganda, Radical journalism, the Ten Hours Movement, the revolutionary crisis of 1831-2; and, beyond that, the multitude of movements which made up Chartism.” Thompson’s The Making humanizes the working class by giving them voice. The criticism levelled against its Marxist theoretical framework fades into the background in the face of its enormous contribution to the field of social historiography. After the publication of The Making, numerous books made of it a perfect model to follow in writing history ‘form below.’

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This review will inevitably be slight and unworthy of its subject, as I am hungry and want to go home and eat supper. Moreover, there is so much to this book that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps this is its greatest strength - it shows a diversity of experiences and details many geographically specific events, building up a fascinating picture of England from 1794 to 1832. I was delighted to discover how much revolutionary sentiment and upheaval took place during the period, as my fascinat This review will inevitably be slight and unworthy of its subject, as I am hungry and want to go home and eat supper. Moreover, there is so much to this book that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps this is its greatest strength - it shows a diversity of experiences and details many geographically specific events, building up a fascinating picture of England from 1794 to 1832. I was delighted to discover how much revolutionary sentiment and upheaval took place during the period, as my fascination with the French Revolution stems in part from disappointment at the UK’s more stolid political history. Thompson does talk at times of the reasons why there wasn’t a revolution in England, despite the strong potential for one at times. Geography seems to have played a part: Paris was at the centre of France economically and administratively, as well as in location. London could not claim quite the same; the areas undergoing greatest economic transformation were around Yorkshire. London’s economy and underground political opposition was highly fragmented, struggling to communicate with radical organisations further north. (All that is gross oversimplification, of course.) Out of the whole book, I would pick the account of Luddism (which I previously knew very little about) as a highlight. The exciting story is told, whilst retaining the caution that historians still know relatively little about how the movement worked. Its antecedents and implications are explored in a really compelling fashion. In fact, considering the length, this is a highly readable book. I now feel much better informed about the heterogenous nature of the Industrial Revolution and efforts to agitate and unionise in response to its cruelties. Although some specific figures are profiled, the book avoids the dangerous trap of ‘Great Man’ history, of concentrating on a few people as personifications of events. That is clearly inappropriate when the history of class formation is being told. I also appreciated Thompson ending on this note, which still rings all too true: 'Class also acquired a peculiar resonance in English life: everything, from their schools to their shops, their chapels to their amusements, was turned into a battleground of class. The marks of this still remain, but by the outsider they are not always understood.'

  24. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Riley

    This is a masterpiece of social, political history. It would be too difficult to summarize in the length that it deserves. As far as readability and attention keeping, there were only two sections that were a bit too detailed and too well researched that dragged this book out. The rest of this book was drenched in research, both secondary and primary sources. The first section of the book was notable for it was the history of just post French Revolution Britain when a small segment of the workin This is a masterpiece of social, political history. It would be too difficult to summarize in the length that it deserves. As far as readability and attention keeping, there were only two sections that were a bit too detailed and too well researched that dragged this book out. The rest of this book was drenched in research, both secondary and primary sources. The first section of the book was notable for it was the history of just post French Revolution Britain when a small segment of the working population sought to organize for change while the counter revolutionary goons and fear mongers pushed English isolationism and fear. There were very real riots and dust ups on a large scale during this time when the "God and King" crowd fought to instill fear in the masses. The last part of the book was also fabulous. It centered around the movements cohesiveness in the 1820's and early 1830's when trade union power and organization evolved. This era marked when the middle classes and semi-reformers finally became disgusted with many governmental activities like spying on organizations, entrapping members to commit crimes, and of course the Peterloo massacre of unarmed protestors. This book details every working class movement, protest, philosophy and leader during one of the most important periods of activism in the western world. Coming with the growth of machinery and the large scale destruction of traditional craftsman, movements sprang up, gained traction, got crushed by the government, or religious bureaucracy, or the Poor Laws, got violent, became aware of the dangers, lost and then gained the middle class moral members of society.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Miquixote

    Considered by academics to be THE 'exemplar' work of English social history. Also considered a core part of any 'left text' Reading list. Despite it's status as likely the most intellectually important English history book ever written, this is not a universal history of England. It is about the development of English artisan and working class society from 1780 to 1832. This very humanist book saved the forgotten impoverished, sometimes utopian, sometimes mystical workers of England of this fundam Considered by academics to be THE 'exemplar' work of English social history. Also considered a core part of any 'left text' Reading list. Despite it's status as likely the most intellectually important English history book ever written, this is not a universal history of England. It is about the development of English artisan and working class society from 1780 to 1832. This very humanist book saved the forgotten impoverished, sometimes utopian, sometimes mystical workers of England of this fundamental period from historical oblivion. These are the years when the working class realized that their interests are fundamentally opposed to the upper class. United by their hatred towards the new industrialism (they were going through what people now call the Industrial Revolution). Yes, they were often fantasy-oriented, backwards-thinking, but we can't relate. Some things like Methodism, probably a more negative influence than positive. But the people of England had their entire way of life turned upside-down and we must empathize, even admire.. and above all, learn. Who is Joanna Southcott? What is Luddism? Jacobinism? The London Corresponding Society? Read it and learn... This book proved class was worthy of historical investigation, and began a wave of New Left labor historians. Similar Works can be found on the American working class. Thompson was indeed a Marxist, but equally important no Stalinist. He sees Marxism as fundamentally humanistic and democratically socialist. 50 years later this book remains at the top of academia. No small feat.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Nutshell: "The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history. It was not the spontaneous generation of the factory-system. Nor should we think of an external force -- the 'industrial revolution' -- working upon some nondescript undifferentiated raw material of humanity, and turning it out at the other end as a 'fresh race of beings'. The changing productive relations and working conditions of the Industrial Revolution were imposed, not upon raw Nutshell: "The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history. It was not the spontaneous generation of the factory-system. Nor should we think of an external force -- the 'industrial revolution' -- working upon some nondescript undifferentiated raw material of humanity, and turning it out at the other end as a 'fresh race of beings'. The changing productive relations and working conditions of the Industrial Revolution were imposed, not upon raw material, but upon the free-born Englishman [....:] He was the object of massive religious indoctrination and the creator of new political traditions. The working class made itself as much as it was made." (194)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Szendi

    Whatever flaws this book may have - the absence of women is a major one, yes - it remains incredibly exciting. The narrative is textured and compelling, and Thompson opens it up to so many voices that it really does convey a sense of the presence of the English working class at the site of its own production. Every national history (and we can debate the dangers of a national history as an aside) deserves this additional treatment. Hagen Koo offers an attempt in the Korean case, and Ching Kwan Le Whatever flaws this book may have - the absence of women is a major one, yes - it remains incredibly exciting. The narrative is textured and compelling, and Thompson opens it up to so many voices that it really does convey a sense of the presence of the English working class at the site of its own production. Every national history (and we can debate the dangers of a national history as an aside) deserves this additional treatment. Hagen Koo offers an attempt in the Korean case, and Ching Kwan Lee gives us a similar look at contemporary China. I want more.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    The seminal book of the Century. Read this book at University and though it's not 'easy reading' as such, I found the subject matter very interesting and thought provoking. According to Wikipedia this '...is an influential and pivotal work of English social history, written by E. P. Thompson, a notable 'New Left' historian; it was published in 1963 (revised 1968) by Victor Gollancz Ltd, and later republished at Pelican, becoming an early Open University Set Book. It concentrates on English artis The seminal book of the Century. Read this book at University and though it's not 'easy reading' as such, I found the subject matter very interesting and thought provoking. According to Wikipedia this '...is an influential and pivotal work of English social history, written by E. P. Thompson, a notable 'New Left' historian; it was published in 1963 (revised 1968) by Victor Gollancz Ltd, and later republished at Pelican, becoming an early Open University Set Book. It concentrates on English artisan and working class society "in its formative years 1780 to 1832."'

  29. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Awe-inspiring historical writing, in research and reframing of the state of working-class organization, rebellion, and self-awareness in the midst of the English Industrial Revolution. Long, and ultimately worth it: I was particularly engrossed in the discussion of Luddism, of Owenism, and of the ebb and flow of organizations, clubs, and societies throughout these years in creating political counterbalance to the state's alliance with laissez faire ideology.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    essential book for working class studies.

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