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from the Chartist Challenge: Chartist Demonstration—by kind permission of Heinemann.


by E. P. Thompson
Raymond Williams’ new book, The Long Revolution (Chatto & Windus, 30s.), develops the important
themes of Culture & Society—the study of the theory of culture, and an analysis of the stage reached
in the development of a “common culture”.This is the first of a two-part review of Williams’ work.

WITHIN TWO months of the publication of The historians, by educational theorists, by sociologists
Long Revolution the reception of the book is so and by political theorists.
well assured that I am released from the usual This is to say that his work is very important
inhibitions upon a socialist reviewer—the need to indeed, and that—so far as we can speak of a
repair the hostility of the general press. I have New Left—he is our best man. But, paradoxically,
no need to insist upon the importance of Raymond his influence as a socialist critic has been accom-
Williams’ achievement. Even a brief passage of his panied by—and has, to a certain degree, been the
writing has something about it which demands consequence of—his own partial disengagement
attention—a sense of stubborn, unfashionable from the socialist intellectual tradition. It is this
integrity, a combination of distinction and force. problem which I wish to discuss. The greater
His work, over the past ten years, carries an I may start by mentioning that I have a real
authority which commands the respect of his difficulty with Raymond Williams’ tone. At times,
opponents; and the positions which he has in Culture and Society, I felt that I was being
occupied must be negotiated by critics and by offered a procession of disembodied voices—
Burke, Carlyle, Mill, Arnold—their meanings At some distance opposite, the outer walls of
wrested out of their whole social context (that Sarcophagus College—silent, black and windowless
French Revolution—is its full shock and recoil —threw their four centuries of gloom, bigotry, and
really felt behind Mr. Williams’ treatment of the decay into the little room she occupied, shutting
out the moonlight by night and the sun by day . . .
late romantic tradition?), the whole transmitted Even now ( Jude) did not distinctly hear the freezing
through a disinterested spiritual medium. I some- negative that those scholared walls had echoed to
times imagine this medium (and it is the church- his desire.
going solemnity of the procession which provokes It may seem strange for me—and I was born
me to irreverence) as an elderly gentlewoman and and bred at Christminster—to remind the author
near relative of Mr. Eliot, so distinguished as to of Border Country of the “freezing negative”
have become an institution: The Tradition. There which has become associated with the academic
she sits, with that white starched affair on her tone: but I think that the reminder is needed.
head, knitting definitions without thought of My second point is that men communicate
recognition or reward (some of them will be affirmations as well as definitions, and in certain
parcelled up and sent to the Victims of Industry) situations one may feel that indignation is a more
—and in her presence how one must watch one’s appropriate response than discrimination. Third
LANGUAGE! The first brash word, the least —and this is a more substantial objection—I am
suspicion of laughter or polemic in her presence, very doubtful as to whether The Tradition is a
and The Tradition might drop a stitch and have helpful notion at all; indeed, I am of the opinion
to start knitting all those definitions over again. that there is not one but two major traditions
under review in Culture and Society, with sub-
The Tradition traditions within both, and that the extra-
The tone in which one must speak in the ordinarily fine local criticism from which this
presence of The Tradition has recently been book is made up becomes blurred just at those
indicated by Mr. Williams (during the course of a points where this notion of The Tradition
review in the Guardian) in a comment upon the obtrudes.
nature of “genuine communication”: I will return to these points. Indeed, The Long
Revolution forces one to do so. If there is a
You can feel the pause and effort: the necessary revolution going on, then it is fair to suppose
openness and honesty of a man listening to another, that it is a revolution against something (classes,
in good faith, and then replying. institutions, people, ideas) as well as for some-
The point, as Mr. Williams would say, is taken: thing. Mr. Williams’ answer would appear to be
genuine communication can be like this, and this that it has been against “a familiar inertia of old
also tells us much about the strength of his own social forms”, “the pressures and restrictions of
style. But The Tradition has not been like this older forms of society”, “non-democratic patterns
at all: Burke abused, Cobbett inveighed, Arnold of decision”, “older human systems”, “authori-
was capable of malicious insinuation, Carlyle, tarian patterns” and “the dominative mode”.
Ruskin and D. H. Lawrence, in their middle What he has to say about all these is always
years, listened to no one. This may be regretable: important and sometimes outstandingly so. But a
but I cannot see that the communication of anger, sense of extreme fastidiousness enters whenever
indignation, or even malice, is any less genuine. logic prompts us to identity these “patterns”,
What is evident here is a concealed preference— “systems” and “forms” with precise social forces
in the name of “genuine communication”—for and particular thinkers. If we are against these
the language of the academy. And it is easy for institutions and forms (but Mr. Williams does
the notion of “good faith” to refer, not only to not use “we” in this sense), then we can scarcely
the essential conventions of intellectual discourse, fail to notice that Mr. Eliot (for example) has
but also to carry overtones—through Newman defended them. It might follow that the long
and Arnold to the formal addresses of most Vice- revolution is, at this point, a revolution against
Chancellors today—which are actively offensive. Mr. Eliot’s ideas; and it is difficult to see in
I am suggesting three things. First, through a what sense William Morris or D. H. Lawrence
great part of the history covered by Mr. Williams belong to the same tradition as Mr. Eliot, unless
“tradition”, the tone of the academy has seemed we are using “tradition” in the sense in which we
less than disinterested to those millions who have can describe both Calvin and Ignatius Loyola
inhabited the “shabby purlieus” of the centres as belonging to a common “Christian tradition”.
of learning. When Jude and Sue finally came to But once we include both Reformation and
rest at Christminster, Hardy offers us a view Counter-Reformation within one common tradi-
of at least one part of “the tradition” through tion, we must recognise that we are in danger of
their eyes; becoming so aloof that the energies of the dis-
putants cannot be seen through the haze. what bewhiskered agent was standing outside
This is not the only tone which Williams the boudoir and forcing her to this exercise?
employs. There is another, emergent, tone, most And in the third example I am simply lost. Whose
evident in the final sections of both books, which argument against the political vote? To whom did
conveys the stubborn democratic passion, the the question of ownership seem bound up with
sense of human worth and dignity, of Jude that of political democracy? In answer to the
himself. Characteristically, it is a passion so well arguments of Ireton, Burke, and Bagehot, those
controlled that it is most often expressed in who represent the majority tradition in the fight
negative clauses: “there are in fact no masses,” for the franchise until 1884, were at pains to
“it is difficult to assent even in passing to . . .”, separate the questions of political democracy and
“this does not even sound like democracy,” “but of social ownership. The political suffrage had
the actual men and women, under permanent already “broken”, in 1867 and 1884, before
kinds of difficulty, will observe and learn, and British socialism emerged as a significant force.
I do not think that in the long run they will be But why “broke”? Is it not another example of a
anybody’s windfall.” What a sense of the tenacity term chosen according to some principle of
of the common people is conveyed in that last selection which prefers the impersonal to the
(negative) clause! And yet, in The Long Revolution, personal and the passive to the active construc-
I find altogether too many constructions of this tion? If he had said, “the political suffrage was
order: won”, it would have implied the questions by
whom and against whom, and this would have
The 19th-century achievement . . . shows the entailed re-writing the entire passage. Nor do I
re-organisation of learning by a radically changed think this to be a quibble. Behind the words
society, in which the growth of industry and of “broke” and “won” one might detect two very
democracy were the leading elements, and in terms different statements about history: “history hap-
of change both in the dominant social character pened like that” and “men have made history in
and in types of adult work. (140). this way”.
. . . a society which had changed its economy,
which under pressure was changing its institutions, The Collective “We”
but which, at the centres of power, was refusing to
change its ways of thinking. (143). I do not think that Mr. Williams makes either
It seems obvious that industrial democracy is statement in The Long Revolution: this is the
deeply related to questions of ownership; the central ambiguity which the book, despite all its
argument against the political vote was always great merits, does not finally resolve. The tone
that the new people voting, “the masses”, had no of Mr. Eliot and Mr. Williams’ own constructive
stake in the country. The development of new sense of democracy are at odds to the very end. To
forms of ownership then seemed an essential part make his meaning finally clear I think he must
of any democratic advance, although in fact, the re-make his style. He must resist the temptation
political suffrage broke ahead of this. (313). to take his readers and himself into the collective
“we” of an established culture, even when he
Abstract Social Forces? uses this device to challenge assumptions which
What is evident in all these passages is that certain “we” are supposed to hold (and yet which have
difficulties in Mr. Williams’ style (that “density” been under challenge from a minority for over
of which some reviewers have complained) arise 100 years). And I must plead with him to erase
from his determination to de-personalise social such sentences as this:
forces and at the same time to avoid certain terms Few would now regard (Chartism) as dangerous
and formulations which might associate him with and wicked, as it was widely regarded at the time:
a simplified version of the class struggle which he too many of its principles have been subsequently
rightly believes to be discredited. But I think that built into the “British way of life” for it to be easy
he has evaded, and not circumvented, the problem. openly to agree with Macaulay, for example, that
The first example says a great deal less than might universal suffrage is “incompatible with the very
be supposed upon a rapid reading—in the 19th- existence of civilisation”. (58).
century society changed, and so did education,
and there is some correlation between them. The Oh, the sunlit quadrangle, the clinking of glasses
phrase, “the growth of industry and of demo- of port, the quiet converse of enlightened men!
cracy”, conceals more than it reveals about the And Jude and Sue in their lodgings across the
crucial social conflicts. The second example is a way, which have now been “built into” our way
contortion, almost like mirror-writing, which of life. And what about their way of life, the way
avoids identifying the points of conflict: if Dame of the common people? Is it not relevant that
Society was changing all these garments, who or they also had opinions, and regarded Macaulay
as dangerous and wicked in their turn? And how back, I can see the point at which I simply
wide (or narrow) must an opinion be to be handled disengaged from the contest; and I can recall
with this deference—does it become a part of friends who were actually broken (as many of
The Tradition only when it can be washed down their analogues in the Labour movement were
with port? broken) by the experience of this period. There
were so many ways to retire—into mere apathy,
Conditioned By Context into erudite specialisms, into the defensive
But I have stopped listening “in good faith”. rhetoric of Communist dogma, into Parliament
And this reminds me that Mr. Williams is no or antique shops or academic careerism. Some
more of a disembodied voice than those voices insight into the stress of this time—and also,
he has interpreted to us. His problems were set, perhaps, into Williams’ own sense of isolation—
and his tone has been conditioned by, a particular may be found in the conclusion to his essay on
social context: and it is in relation to this context Orwell:
that we can appreciate the size of his achievement. We have . . . to understand . . . how the instincts
Mr. Williams tells us that he set himself ten years of humanity can break down under pressure into
ago the body of work which is brought to its an inhuman paradox; how a great and humane
completion in The Long Revolution. Ten years tradition can seem at times, to all of us, to dis-
takes us back to the aftermath of Zhdanovism: integrate into a caustic dust.
the onset of the Cold War: the enfeeblement of And—at the end of the essay on Eliot—”the next
the energies which had brought Labour to power step, in thinking of these matters, must be in a
in 1945: the rapid dispersal of the Leftist intellec- different direction, for Eliot has closed almost
tual climate of the war years, and the equally all of the existing roads”.
rapid assertion over a wide field of the authority Again, he gives too much credit to Eliot: the
of Mr. Eliot. roads forward had been closed by the general
Eliot—Raymond Williams was to write in impasse of the international socialist movement,
Culture and Society—”raised questions which and Eliot was ready to point this out. Worse, the
those who differ from him politically must major intellectual socialist tradition in this
answer, or else retire from the field”. I do not country was so contaminated that Williams could
myself think that it was Eliot who asked these not hope to contest with reaction at all unless he
questions: I still think that Notes towards the dissociated himself from it: the follies of prolet-
Definition of Culture is a mediocre book. It was cult, the stridency and crude class reductionism
the context which insisted that the questions be which passed for Marxist criticism in some circles,
asked, and it now seems inevitable that Eliot the mixture of quantitative rhetoric and guilty
should have come forward as the questioner. But casuism which accompanied apologetics for
a part of his book is made up of assertions which Zhdanovism—all these seemed to have corroded
are so little supported in the text that they could even the vocabulary of socialism. With a com-
not possibly have carried influence unless there promised tradition at his back, and with a broken
had been a general pressure of experience forcing vocabulary in his hands, he did the only thing
assent: that was left to him: he took over the vocabulary
of his opponents, followed them into the heart
We can assert with some confidence that our own of their own arguments, and fought them to a
period is one of decline; that the standards of standstill in their own terms. He held the roads
culture are lower than they were 50 years ago; and open for the young, and now they are moving
that the evidences of this decline are visible in every down them once again. And when, in ’56, he saw
department of human activity. some of his socialist contemporaries coming back
It is the “confidence”, supported by nothing more to his side, his smile must have had a wry edge.
than a footnote citing a work by Mr. Victor As one of these contemporaries I wish to salute
Gollancz, which was new. And the confidence his courage. It is an achievement of the order
was not misplaced. By the end of the decade the which reminds us that in intellectual contest it
intellectual Left was in evident rout: “progress”, is not numbers but sheer quality which wins in
“liberalism”, “humanism” and (unless in the the end. Raymond Williams is one of the very
ritual armoury of cold war) “democracy” became few intellectuals in this country who was not
suspect terms: and all those old banners which the broken in some degree during that decade; and
Thirties had too easily assumed to be stowed away who maintained his independence from the
in ancestral trunks were raised in the wind again. attractive poles of cold war ideology. The first
Raymond Williams stayed in the field. I find part of this achievement was defensive: in Culture
it difficult to convey the sheer intellectual en- and Society he contained the intellectual counter-
durance whioh this must have entailed. Looking revolution at crucial points, confronted the force
of obscuranticism and social pessimism and in which choices were involved which might have
doing so re-asserted the values of the democratic led to a different outcome. We are left with an
tradition. The second part, in The Long Revolution, impression of a great “expansion” and of a
is to offer new directions and “creative defini- concentration of ownership, and if this was the
tions”: and to develop a theory of culture “as a story then it had to be so. This must lead on—as
theory of relations between elements in a whole it does in the final section of the book—to the
way of life”. There can be no doubt that many of conclusion that if there is to be a remedy it
his definitions clarify problems and point towards must come through far-reaching administrative
their solution. But I must record my view that measures which will ensure a newly independent
he has not yet succeeded in developing an adequate press. But I hold this to be utopian. We shall never
general theory of culture. develop an opinion strong enough in this country
to force such measures, which oppose at a critical
point the interests of the capitalist class, unless
Pressures Of A Decade we are strong enough to found an independent
For Mr. Williams did not emerge unmarked socialist press which can voice and organise this
from the pressures of that decade. I am reminded opinion. It is one of the paradoxes of the critical
of George Orwell’s comment upon a certain type younger generation, that one may hear on every
of Labour leader: “not merely while but by side voices deploring the effects of advertising
fighting the bourgeoisie he becomes a bourgeois and of the centralised media, but scarcely a voice
himself ”. I do not only mean that tone and those which goes on to say: we must combine to
mannerisms of style which are derived from Eliot. produce, finance, and sell an independent paper.
It is also that Mr. Williams has accepted to some Sooner or later the attempt must be made once
degree his opponent’s way of seeing the problem, more; and if it should be made I have no doubt
and has followed them into their own areas of that Mr. Williams would give it immediate
concern, while at the same time neglecting other support. But my point is that his analysis does
problems and approaches which have been the not lead people towards this kind of active
particular concern of the socialist tradition. confrontation, because he has given a record
I will take two examples of the way in which of impersonal forces at work and not a record of
the pressures of the past decade can be seen as a struggle.
limitation upon The Long Revolution. In his In this case I think he has asked the wrong
chapter on “The Growth of the Popular Press” questions. In his analysis of culture in the 1840s,
Williams is at pains to demolish the 1870 Edu- and of the growth of the reading public, I think
cation Act=Titbits=Daily Mail myth. This he he has excluded a whole area of relevant evidence.
does effectively—so much so that the business Both studies abound in new insights, and it would
of demolition can be seen as the active principle be ungrateful to quarrel with them if this is all
according to which his evidence is selected. But that is being claimed. But Mr. Williams makes a
as a consequence a number of questions highly greater claim:
relevant to the historian of the working-class Cultural history must be more than the sum of
movement are never asked at all—questions of the particular histories, for it is with the relations
quality, of the relation of the press to popular between them, the particular forms of the whole
movements, and of the relation of ownership to organisation, that it is especially concerned.
political power. While the struggle to establish And the analysis of the 1840s is offered as a
an alternative popular press is mentioned, it is paradigm in application of “the theory of culture
done so in an annexe apart from the main as the study of relationships between elements
narrative—it is not seen as a continuing part of in a whole way of life”. (46). I have spent a good
the same story, where power, the pursuit of deal of time in the 1840s, and his 1840s are not
profit, and the response of democracy interlock. mine. He deals splendidly with the popular
The Northern Star—the most impressive 19th- novel and reveals unsuspected connections: with
century working-class newspaper—is not men- the Chartist press and the teeming political theory
tioned here, nor in the analysis of culture in the of the time he deals scarcely at all. The seven
1840s, although it offers substantial evidence on “factors” which he offers as dominating “the
general political and social history” of the period
the other side of the story. The collapse of this are an arbitrary selection; and to abstract factors
press—and the decline in quality when contrasted in this way is the first step towards muddling
with Reynold’s or Lloyds two decades later- problems of relationship and causation. Points of
remain unexplained. As the story proceeds into conflict are blurred: defeats and failures are
this century, the quantitative narrative passes by minimised: the dominant social character is
all those points at which power intervened or at tricked up in its Sunday best, and the charges

against the middle-class (brought by Dickens or pamphlets which they abundantly dispersed . . . And
Oastler or Fielden or any Chartist branch) of soldiers being usually dispersed in their quarters,
hypocrisy, dual standards, and self-interest, go they had such books to read when they had none
unexamined—there are no good or bad men in to contradict them.
Mr. Williams’ history, only dominant and sub- And the same inadequacy is even more marked
ordinate “structures of feeling”. In the result,
we are left with a general euphoria of “progress”; in Williams’ treatment of the 1790s, where he
whatever has happened the emphasis lingers upon notes the extraordinary sale of Paine’s Rights of
“growth”, “expansion”, “new patterns”. All Man, and adds as his only comment:
three social characters (he tells us) It seems clear that the extension of political
contribute to the growth of society: the aristo- interest considerably broadened the reading public
cratic ideals tempering the harshness of middle-class by collecting a new class of readers, from groups
ideals at their worst; working-class ideals entering hardly touched by the earlier expansion. (163).
into a fruitful and decisive combination with Notice once again the impersonal construction:
middle-class ideals at their best. (63). it is the “extension” of interest which “broadens”
This is indeed a complacent judgment upon a the public and “collects” a new class of readers.
decade which saw the Duke of Wellington This enables us to side-step the fact that we are
(aristocratic ideals?) commanding a mob of considering an alternative reading-public and an
middle-class specials against a Chartist demon- alternative press, created by the initiative of a
stration; and which ended (to mention some of the “few fiery, self-conceited men” in the face of
negative evidence which is not considered) with Church, Commerce, and State. Everything is
scores of gifted working-men in jail, transported, different. So far from being rewarded or held in
or emigrating from tyranny—with tens of esteem for their work, the writers—Lilburne or
thousands of handloom weavers starved out of Paine—were jailed or driven into exile; their
their “whole way of life” at home and with work was circulated by illegal, voluntary means
millions starved out of theirs in Ireland—and in the face of many hazards; and the very manner
with the first great working-class party in Europe of reading was different—in the London Corres-
in total defeat. For such a decade as this (and I do ponding Society and among Sheffield cutlers it
not mean to deny the positive evidence) “growth” was the common procedure that a chapter of
can be a misleading term. Suffering is not just a Paine’s work would be “set” and then it would be
wastage in the margin of growth: for those who read aloud and discussed at the next week’s
suffer it is absolute. meeting. Perhaps there are over-dramatic ex-
amples: but the “few fiery, self-conceited men”
Reading Publics have been at their work of kindling an alternative
public for several centuries now, and they
The “reading public” is another misleading constitute a tradition which is not sufficiently
term. Given this simple undifferentiated notion taken into Mr. Williams’ survey of the evidence.
we become committed to a simple quantitative I would not make so much of these criticisms
narrative. But in fact there have always been a if I did not think them pertinent to Mr. Williams’
number of reading publics, differentiated not only main claim—to have offered a new general
according to educational and social levels, but, theory of culture. These criticisms might be
crucially, in their manner of production and merely local, and indicate some deficiency, at
distribution of the product and in the relation these points, in Mr. Williams’ equipment;
between the writer and his audience. It is not A comparison between the inadequacy of his
enough for Mr. Williams to note a rise in the treatment of the popular press and the superb
number of pamphlets, etc., during the Civil War chapter on “The Social History of Dramatic
which can be correlated with “a rise in social and Forms” is instructive; in the latter there is a
especially political interests”. We miss the under- sense of conflict, paradox, of cultural “lag” and
standing of a new kind of reading public, hinted contradiction, which his own expert knowledge
at by one Puritan divine: and sense of the medium has brought into the
When I came to the Army, among Cromwell’s very texture of his style, and which is so signally
soldiers, I found a new face of things which I never absent from the former. And yet I am convinced
dreamed of. I heard the plotting heads very hot that these deficiencies are not only local, but
upon that which intimated their intention to subvert are symptomatic of general limitations in
both Church and State . . . A few fiery, self-con- Mr. Williams’ method.
ceited men among them kindled the rest and made We may start by noting the limitations of the
all the noise and bustle, and carried about the tradition out of which Mr. Williams’ work arises.
Army as they pleased . . . A great part of the The Tradition (if there is one) is a very English
mischief they did among the soldiers was by phenomena: it is comprised in the main of
publicists, writers, critics and philosophers (of an main tradition (“the validity of his (Marx’s)
English variety): throughout Culture and Society economic and political theory cannot here be
there is no frontal encounter with an historian, discussed”) Williams evaded the point that what
an anthropologist, a sociologist of major stature. Marx offered was not a theory of art and a theory
If Williams had allowed himself to look beyond of politics and another theory of economics but
this island, he might have found a very different a theory of history, of the processes of historical
eleven of Players fielding against him, from Vico change as (in Williams’ own notion of “culture”)
through Marx to Weber and Mannheim, beside “the study of relationships between elements in a
whom his own team might look, on occasion, whole way of life”. Now the point here is not
like gentlemen amateurs. Even within this island whether Marx’s theory was essentially right: it is
there are other traditions which he might have evident that Mr. Williams is critical of its tendency
consulted: I think of the life-long engagement towards economic and technological reductionism
with the problem of culture of Professor Gordon (although it is not always clear whether he is
Childe. And the omission is significant: the arguing here with Marx or with his vulgarisers),
archeologist, or the student of primitive society, and that he holds—as I do—that the imagery
in his consideration of the idea of culture, must of basis and superstructure is far too mechanical
be governed by peculiarly stubborn material to describe the logic of change. The point is,
which resists the tendency towards idealist rather, is there a tradition there to which—despite
speculation—or, frankly, talking “out of the top all that has happened, all that must be revalued,
of one’s head”—which is the vice of the amateur and all the new evidence that must be taken in—
gentleman tradition. Moreover, in common with we can return? Or must we start at the beginning
the conceptual historian, he must be aware that again?
definitions alone are sterile. False definitions will It is this tendency to “write off” the socialist
certainly lead on to bad history, bad sociology, tradition which is so disturbing in The Long
bad archaeology; and Raymond Williams’ patient Revolution. It can be noted in a dozen ways, and
work of clarification has cleared away a great deal it is evident throughout the four conceptual
of litter of the past two decades. But to adumbrate chapters with which the book opens. For a
a theory of culture it is necessary to proceed socialist thinker Mr. Williams is extraordinarily
from definitions to evidence and back from the curt with the socialist tradition—and indeed in
evidence to definitions once again; if the anthro- his reference to any minority radical tradition.
pological and historical evidence is not fully One might never suppose that socialism, in the
consulted, then we may not know what it is that 19th and 20th centuries, is a major direction of
we should ask, nor what it is that we must define. European thought. The Labour movement is
And for an adequate theory of human culture, credited from time to time with the creation of
the evidence to be consulted is very wide: we new institutions: but it is never credited with a
must be able to think of a Mesolithic or an Aztec mind. On the one side the “older human systems”,
culture, and of feudal and capitalist culture in their on the other side “expansion”, “growth”, and
epochal (not their pejorative) sense. new institutions, and in the middle The Tradition,
savouring the complexities dispassionately and
trying to think out the right thing to do in
Is There A Tradition? response to “industry” and “democracy”. At
times Mr. Williams seems to lean over backwards
When the problem is seen in this perspective in the attempt to evade making an obvious con-
it is self-evident that its solution is beyond the nection with Marx: for example, his enlightening
reach of any one man: this must be the work of discussion of exiles, vagrants and rebels (90–94)
many men, contributing to a tradition. But such demands but does not receive some correlation
traditions exist, and notably that tradition which with Marx’s notion of alienation: and in his
originates in Marx. It is here that I find a curious attempts to break down the subject/object anti-
ambiguity in all of Mr. Williams’ work. In one thesis (23, 99) one feels impelled to scribble
sense, a great part of both books can be seen as an Theses on Feuerbach in the margin. At other
oblique running argument with Marxism: in times Mr. Williams’ self-isolation from any tradi-
another sense Marx is never confronted at all. tion leads to statements so portentous as to appear
In Culture and Society there is a chapter in which arrogant, as in his initial discussion of creativity
the confusions of certain English Marxist critics where (as it seems to me) he is not upsetting our
are exposed: as one of those pilloried I may take whole received outlook but is bringing important
the opportunity of saying that I found the new evidence to support a way of looking at the
criticism wholly constructive and helpful. But problem which has already been reached indepen-
by abstracting some Marxist criticism from the dently by some anthropologists and historians:
To take account of human creativity the whole left his chapter on “Images of Society” unrevised:
received basis of social thinking, its conception of nor that he could have discussed “the crucial
what man in society is, must be deeply revised (115). question of the nature and origin of change” in
Yes, but Marx wrote something of this the space of four pages (118–121), without
sort, in relation to Promethean man, back in the stumbling upon the crucial arguments of agency
1840s; and the renewed interest—in Poland, and determinism. His conclusion (if it is a con-
France and this country—in the 1844 MSS clusion)—”people change and are changed”—
indicates that Mr. Williams is not as isolated at is of course the beginning of the problem: and it
this point as his claim implies. is exactly here, in 1844, that Marx began. I can
understand only too well the temptation to
New And Old Vocabularies avoid a discussion in a field so confused and so
highly charged with irrelevant emotion. But the
The evasion of this confrontation involves him fact is that we need a book as good as Culture and
at times in thinking which I would almost Society discussing the Marxist and marxisan
describe as shoddy: as, for example, his reference tradition in the same definitive way. The alterna-
to “socialists such as Marx” who related “the tive for which Williams has opted demands no
system of decision (politics) to the system of less than the creation of a new vocabulary; and
maintenance (economics)” but who excluded the danger here is that Williams is making a
from their thinking “the system of learning and dialogue between himself and (among others)
communication” and relationships based on “the historians and economists extraordinarily difficult.
generation and nurture of life” (114). This is a I think that his terms for “politics” and
strange accusation against the authors of The “economics”—the “system of decision” and the
German Ideology and The Origin of the Family. “system of maintenance”—are misleading in a
The point, once again, is not whether Marx and number of ways, and contribute to a fragmented
Engels saw these “systems” in the right relation- view of the social process which makes more
ship—nor whether, in the state of knowledge then difficult his own avowed intention of synthesising
available to them, it was possible for them to do “an adequate sense of general human organisa-
so. There is room for argument here: but Williams tion”: they make it more difficult, for example, to
refuses to retrace the argument. It seems evident
to him that in the later Marxist tradition “art is conceive of relationships of power, property and
degraded as a mere reflection of the basic exploitation as co-existing simultaneously within
economic and political process, on which it is all the “systems”. Further, if we segregate these
thought to be parasitic. . . . But the creative four activities as co-equal “systems” (politics,
element in man is the root both of his personality economics, communications, and the family) then
and his society; it can neither be confined to art we must look to some other discipline to examine
nor excluded from the systems of decision and the manner according to which the systems are
maintenance” (115). Amen to this: an amen related to each other; and this synthesising
which found dramatic expression in the squares discipline will very soon make imperialist claims.
of Warsaw and Budapest in 1956. But we do not These claims are commonly made today by
owe this insight to the discoveries of Professor sociology, and Williams has now staked a
J. Z. Young, however valuable his supporting counter-claim in the name of “cultural history”:
evidence may be. It is also explicit in Marx’s I see this cultural history as more than a depart-
view of homo faber: ment, a special area of change. In this creative area
We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it as the changes and conflicts of the whole way of life
exclusively human. A spider conducts operations are necessarily involved. (122).
that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to I must dispute this claim. Now if Williams by
shame many an architect in the construction of her “the whole way of life” really means the whole
cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from way of life he is making a claim, not for cultural
the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his history, but for history. The fact that this claim
structure in imagination before he erects it in can now be made, with some colour, against
ality. (Capital, I, iii, VII.) history by both critics and sociologists is a
Oh, that book! Do we really have to go over devastating comment upon the relegation of
all that old nineteenth-century stuff again? We history to an inferior status in this country.
have all felt this response: Marx has become not I can only speculate here upon the reasons for
only an embarrassment but a bore. But The Long this: one part may be found in the failure of
Revolution has convinced me, finally, that go over Marxist historians to take into account whole
it again we must. If Mr. Williams had done so—if areas of concern disclosed by sociologists and
he had had any frontal encounter with historical critics (although there is a sturdy minority
materialism—I cannot believe that he could have tradition associated with Dona Torr, Mr
Christopher Hill, and contributors to Past and culture, we need not argue about the name. And
Present which may assume greater importance in yet it is obvious that something more than this is
the future). Another part is analysed in Mr. E. H. being claimed, both in Mr. Williams’ own
Carr’s splendid Trevelyan Lectures, whose practice and in the manner in which the claim is
quality serves to emphasise the absence of con- phrased—“. . . is the attempt to discover the
ceptual historical thinking of this order in this nature of . . .”—this surely suggests a process so
country for some years. A further part lies in the delicate, a responsiveness to “social character”
eagerness with which academics in the empirical and “structures of feeling”, for which the
tradition have taken upon themselves the role of discipline of the critic will be more appropriate
narrative drudges, making whole history schools than the blundering discipline of the historian?
into a kind of piece-meal baggage-train serving What then is the “cultural historian” who (we
more ambitious departments. And yet another, I must remember) is specially concerned with the
suspect, can be attributed to a mere shift in “creative area” where “changes and conflicts . . .
fashion and a recrudescence of the amateur are necessarily involved?” He cannot be a whole-
gentleman tradition (you have to slog at economics way-of-life historian or we are back in a tauto-
or philosophy but anyone’s opinion about logical teeter. He must have the equipment of a
“culture” or “society” is as good as anyone critic with that kind of literary-sociological flair
else’s). which is so interesting (and so refreshing) a
I do not dispute, then, that Mr. Williams may phenomenon of contemporary American and
have been provoked into making his claim by British writing. Good: I am ready to root for
the eagerness with which historians, under the Richard Hoggart as King and David Riesman as
chiding of Sir Lewis Namier and Professor President USA. But there is a simple assertion:
Popper, have abandoned theirs. The place has in all those coils of abstraction nothing has been
been widely advertised as being “To Let”. But proved.
before we accept the new occupant we must first
look at the references of a “whole way of life”. A Principle Of Selection
This is Mr. Williams’ talisman. It is being
suggested that society is constituted of elements Raymond Williams is offering creative defini-
(or activities or systems) which, when taken tions, and I am asking questions, and mine is the
together in their mutual interaction, constitute “a easier and less worthy task. But I think he has
whole way of life”. At this point we become in- tried to take in too much, over-reached himself,
volved in abstractions which teeter again and and is in danger of losing some of the ground he
again on the cliffs of tautology. If way of life has really gained. If he had argued that the social
equals culture then what is society apart from “sciences” had neglected a crucial area of culture
way of life: does society equal culture also? We which cannot be evaluated or interpreted without
are dragged from the edge by the word the equipment of the critic, I would have fought
“organisation”: by his side. But this “whole way of life” is suspect
The “pattern of culture” is a selection and con- for several reasons. It derives from Eliot: and
figuration of interests and activities, and a particular in its first assertion is associated with religion:
valuation of them, producing a distinct organisation, . . . there is an aspect in which we can see a
a “way of life”. (47). religion as the whole way of life of a people, from
The point, then, is that culture is more than birth to the grave, from morning to night and even
the elements or activities in inter-relation: it is in sleep, and that way of life is also its culture.
the way in which, in a given society, these Mr. Williams noted of this, in Culture and Society,
elements are related, giving rise to a distinct that in this sense of “culture”—“Eliot, like the
organisation or meaningful form to the whole rest of us, has been at least casually influenced”
society. “The analysis of culture is the attempt by anthopology and sociology. One might wish
to discover the nature of the organisation which that the acquaintance had been less “casual”.
is the complex of these relationships” (46). For Eliot went on, in a well-known passage, to
But we are now surrounded with cliffs: I find it argue that the term “culture”:
difficult to conceive of a society apart from the includes all the characteristic activities and
complex of its relationships or apart from its interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta,
organisation, and I had supposed that historians, Cowes, the 12th of August, a cup final, the dog
sociologists, anthropologists, in their different races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale
ways, were—or ought to be—concerned with cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in
exactly these questions of relationship between vinegar, 19th-century Gothic churches and the
elements and principles of organisation. If Mr. music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list.
Williams wishes to colonise all this in the name of The point, of course, is that while “the reader”
may make his own list the serious student of impelled to go on and question the word “life”.
society may not. To decide which activities are I am not being flippant—“life” is a “good” word,
characteristic implies some principle of selection with associations of unconscious vitalism: life
and some theory of social process. Mr. Williams, “flows”, it is “ever-changing”, in “flux”, and so
in his essay on Eliot, notes that he has here on—and so indeed it is. But I think it has flowed
selected examples of “sport, food and a little art”; through chinks in Mr. Williams’ reasoning into a
and suggests that characteristic activities should pervasive euphoria of “expansion” and “new
“also include steelmaking, touring in motor-cars, patterns”. It is perhaps the mindless force which
mixed farming, the Stock Exchange, coalmining, has built the institutions of the Labour move-
and London Transport.” And this is the only ment and which is there behind his impersonal
serious qualification which he offers to Eliot’s constructions. I wish that he had remembered
piece of sloppy and amateurish thinking. The of “life”, as (Mr. Carr has just now reminded us)
reader can still make his own list: but it ought to Marx insisted of “history”:
take in rather more. History does nothing, it possesses no immense
There are a lot of points here. To begin with, wealth, fights no battles. It is rather man, real
despite the qualification, Eliot’s ghost haunts Mr. living man who does everything, who possesses and
Williams—and other NLR writers—whenever fights.
they mention the “whole way of life”. Whatever We might note a tentative definition from the
is claimed, the predominant associations are with archaeologist, Professor Grahame Clark:
leisure activities, the arts and the media of Culture . . . may be defined as the measure of
communication. “Whole” is forgotten (unless in man’s control over nature, a control exercised
the sense of the integrating ethos) and we slide through experience among social groups and
from “way of life” into “style of life”. When we accumulated through the ages.
speak of an individual’s way of life, we usually I do not offer this as a final definition: it is
mean to indicate his style of living, personal formulated in reply to different questions. But it
habits, moral conduct, and the rest, rather than seems to me to have two merits which are not to
his position, work, power, ideas and beliefs—and be found in the amateur tradition. First, it is a
the same range of associations has become definition in terms of function: it raises the ques-
attached to the term in the literary-sociological tion of what culture does (or fails to do). Second,
tradition. But if Mr. Williams is serious about it introduces the notion of culture as experience
including steelmaking, coalmining and the Stock which has been “handled” in specifically human
Exchange in his list, then we are back at the ways, and so avoids the life equals way-of-life
beginning again (culture equals society) or still tautology. Any theory of culture must include
searching for a principle of selection. The way of the concept of the dialectical interaction between
life associated with coalmining cannot be con- culture and something that is not culture. We
sidered apart from the “elements”: we must must suppose the raw material of life-experience
know a lot about technological conditions (are to be at one pole, and all the infinitely complex
women chained to tubs or is there an automated human disciplines and systems, articulate and
coalface?), about who owns the pits, and inarticulate, formalised in institutions or dis-
whether the miners are tied in conditions of persed in the least formal ways, which “handle”,
servitude or have the vote and a strong trade transmit, or distort this raw material to be at the
union. I am sorry to be so obvious: but we are other. It is the active process—which is at the
concerned with definitions, and this phrase must same time the process through which men make
be cross-examined in its turn. their history—that I am insisting upon: I would
But we must be more obvious still. Why must not dare, in this time of linguistic hypertension,
the list stop here? Why not also include, as to offer a new definition. What matters, in the end,
“characteristic activities”, strikes, Gallipoli, the is that the definition will help us to understand
bombing of Hiroshima, corrupt trade union the processes of social change. And if we were
elections, crime, the massive distortion of news, to alter one word in Mr. Williams’ definition,
and Aldermaston marches? Why not indeed? from “way of life” to “way of growth”, we move
The “whole way of life” of European culture in from a definition whose associations are passive
this century (as the Eichmann trial reminds us) has and impersonal to one which raises questions of
included many things which may make future activity and agency. And if we change the word
generations surprised at our “characteristics”. again, to delete the associations of “progress”
But not one example is included in Eliot’s nor in which are implied in “growth”, we might get:
Mr. Williams’ list which forces to the front the “the study of relationships between elements in a
problems of power and of conflict. If such whole way of conflict”. And a way of conflict
examples had been there we might have been is a way of struggle. And we are back with Marx.