Friday, May 15, 2020

Cruise what Edward?

Of course it produced responses. Some of these emerged at an extraordinary evening at a History Workshop conference in Oxford in December 1979. This was for some reason held in a dimly-lit ruined building, and had been set up as a discussion. It ended up however as an emotionally-charged event whose repercussions continued for months if not for years. Unfortunately the paper to which Edward was replying which had particularly annoyed him when he saw it a short time before the debate, seems to have been completely re-written for the published version. Nevertheless, the point to which he took particular exception is explained in his published reply - his categorisation as a ‘culturalist'. At the end of the evening a leading History Workshop character asked whether he would continue to publish relevant material. Edward replied that he thought he would not be publishing much of anything for a while, since he felt that his time would be taken up in trying to organise opposition to the sighting of cruise missiles in Britain. The answer was ‘cruise what Edward?’

As a definitive work of ‘theory’ the essay has many shortcomings. It is much more a defence of history than an exposition of an alternative to Althusser’s views of Marxism. Edward saw the dispute not only as a scholarly one, but as the tackling of a set of intellectual assumptions which in politics could be taken to justify Stalinism and the discredited methods of the old Communist parties. Readers of Althusser’s autobiography, a strangely haunting volume which is now available in English as well as French may feel that the gulf between the two writers lies not only in their different intellectual approaches but in their whole lives. Perhaps one may even use the despised word 'experience’?
Dorothy Thompson. The Introduction to The Poverty of Theory.

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