The eagle and the bustard: EP Thompson and Louis Althusser

Scott Hamilton

in The Crisis of Theory

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780719084355
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702338 | DOI:
The eagle and the bustard: EP Thompson and Louis Althusser

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This chapter discusses the link between Edward Palmer Thompson and Louis Althusser in the minds of leftists. Although Althusser himself never replied publically to Thompson's volley, his status as an enemy combatant was never really questioned. After World War Two, Althusser had become a tutor at the Ecole Normale; Thompson would spend seventeen years as a Workers Education Association tutor in Yorkshire. Neither was closely involved in the concerns and campaigns of organised labour. Thompson and Althusser welcomed Leszek Kolakowski's denunciation of Stalin in 1956, but were suspicious of ‘official’ de-Stalinisation. Thompson shared Althusser's antipathy to the economism of Stalinism and the teleology of Hegel, but he tended to associate both errors with the very scientism and vanguardism that Althusser demanded. Like Althusser, Thompson developed a conception of Marxism and a political strategy that was rooted in the history of his own country.

Keywords: Edward Palmer Thompson; Louis Althusser; Leszek Kolakowski; Stalin; Marxism; economism

Chapter.  4525 words. 

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