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1AKING

[ISTORY

^RITINGS ON H ISTORY AND CULTURE P. THOMPSON
^RITINGS
ON
H ISTORY
AND CULTURE
P. THOMPSON

Copyright © 1994 Dorothy Thompson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without tlie written permission from the publisher and autlior.

Published in 1£$ United States by The New Press, New York Distributed by W.ÍS5T Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fiñh Avenue, New York, NY 10110

Thompson, E. P. (Edwarjí

924-93

Making histoiy: writings on lústory and culture

/ E. P. Thompson

p.

cm.

Ineludes bibliograpliftáll rcferences. —

ISBN 1-56584-216-2

ISBN 1-56584-217-0 (pbk.)

1. Great Britain—History.

criticism.

I. Title.

g. English literature—History and

DA32.A1T46

1995

941—dc20

94-29225

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Printed in the United States of America

94

95

96

97

9

8 7

6 5 4 3 2

1

Contents

Preface

Vil

Introduction

viíi

Mary Wollstonecraft

 

1

Eleaiior Marx

10

Honiage to Tom Maguire

23

Williani Morris

66

Christopher Caudwell

78

In Defence of tíre Jury

 

*

141

Peterloo

P l6 7

Sold Like a Sheep

for £1

191

History and Anthropolagy

'

199

Left Revieto

226

Edgell Rickword

 

*■ 234

Country and City

 

242

George Sturt

254

Tlie Grid of Inlieritance

261

Happy Faniilies

299

310

Herbert Gutnian

319

Which Britons?

330

Conunitnient and Poetiy

340

Powers and Nanies Agenda for a Radical History

358

Preface

Collected

here

will

be

found

historical

cssays

froni

the

past

thirty

ycars.

I

llave

not

included

my

more

directly

political

and

pcace-rclated

cssays,

some

of wliich

are

still

availablc.

Ñor

have

I included cssays on thc romantic poets. I hope to makc a

collcction of tlicsc later.

 

My

tlianks

are

due

to

Cambridge

University

Press,

Dissenl,

Essays

in

Labour

History

(edited

by

John

Saville), Iridian

Historical Review,

William

Morris

Society,

New

Society,

London

Iieview

New

York

Review

Radical History

Review,

o f Books, Socialist

Regisler,

Past

and

o f Books, Present

Society

and

The

Times Lilerary Supplement.

 

E.P.T.

 

August 1993

Mary Wollstonecraft

On the day after Mary Wollstonecraft

first niade love to William

Godwin she retreated in conccni and sclf-doubt: ‘Considcr wliat has

passed as a fever of your imagination

 

and

I will

bccomc again a

new

Solitary Walker.’ Claire Tomalin,

in

her

bright

biography,

gives

us

this

passage,

but

not

that

other

haunting

sentence:

‘I

perceive that I shall be a child to the end of the chapter

We are all, cverjr one of us, in some part of ourselves children to tlie end of the chapter. \$flfl|stonecraft didn’t always nianage her

personal life wisely.

Ñor,

when

one

comes

to

think

of

it,

did

Coleridge,

De Quinccy, Wordsworth, Hazlitt

need

one go

on?

I

have no objoction to reniinders that persons of genius sliare all tíie

ínfirmities of other moteáis. The ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ o ffiian ities

to which they

were liable,

often liclp us to understand also their genius.

But it is,

in the end.3the plus of genius, and not the lowest conimon

denoniinator of infimiity, which gives their lives importance.

I do object, on Wollstonecraftfeftábpí? to the inequitable treat-

nient which

she has received at tlie hands bf historians and critics.

She is seen less as a significant intellcctual, or as a courageous moralist in an exceptionally exposed position, tlian as an ‘Extraordi-

nary Wonian.’ And the moral confusions,

or personal

crises,

of a

woman are always somehow more than those of a man:

they engross all

other aspeets of the subject. As, indeed,

from the

inexorable faets of the woman’s

‘situation’ they

often tend

to

do.

Wordsworth ‘liad’ an illegitimate daughter in revolutionary France: he carried her around intermittently for a few years as a prívate guilt, but his daughter didn’t encumber lihn in more practical ways. Woll­ stonecraft also ‘liad’ an illegitimate daughter in revolutionary France; but the having was a ratlier difíferent matter, and tliereafter she carried her around (with tlie help of a loyal maid) through France, England, nortliem Europe. It was not a carefully guarded secret, to be tumed up

by biographers in tliis century.

Out-facing the ‘world,’ she walked

with Fanny tlirough tlie London streets.

MARY

WOLLSTONECRAFT

3

lives their published professions. The author of the Vindicatión of

the Rights o f Woman was exposed

in

her

every

motion.

The

‘world’

observed

her

successively

as

a mannish joumalist:

as

a

rejected lover (of FuselílVas a soured spinstcr (tlie ‘wrong side’ of

30);

as

a

discarded

mistress

(of

Imlay);

as

the

mother

of an

¡Ilegitímate child; as an attempted suicide.

‘What’ said I within ¿nyself, ‘this is Miss Mary Wollstonecrañ,

parading about witli a child at her heels, with as little ceremony

as

if

it

were

a watch just bought at the jeweler’s.

So much for

the rights

 

thought

1 ....

Tlie characteristic response is that of Archibald Hamilton Rowan,

the

Irisli patriot.

It

is

fair to

add

that he

became her friend,

and

perhaps was thus educated a little out of his prejudices.

The

final

episode

of her

life has

much of the contrivance of

fiction. When she married William

Godwin

it was much

as

if De

Bcauvoir, soon after writing The Second Sex, liad married Sartre at

the zenith of his rcputation,jj£tíiOj£3^^& died in childbirth. What

a temptation

her

life

provides

JilSIKj^udge-nudge

sort

of

biographer.

And

what materials

survived

her.

After

her

death,

Godwin

-

candid,

benevolent,

and stricken

(perhaps for the

only

time

in

his

life)

by

emotions

which

he

could not

rationalise -

thought it an act of piety to publish her Posthumous Works,

including

her letters

to her feckless

and foot-loose lover, Imlay. It

was not an act of piety. She could not llave wished it so. No

rejected

lover,

man

or woman,

imploring

for love

in

the

face of

equivocation or indiífcrence could wish to be so exposed.

 

But there

was

more.

Wollstonecraft’s

marriage to Godwin,

in

her last year, was conducted ffom independent

neighbouring

establislunents.

Godwin

objected

to marriage on principie,

and

Wollstonecraft accepted his views

up

to

a point:

they were each to

continué to conduct an independent

life, received ffiends (of either

sex), and visit socially as independent persons, not as man-

and-wife. Henee domestic

arrangements

were

conducted

often by

letter:

usually affectionate,

sometimes

loving, sometimes

querulous

or recriminatory,

sometimes

just

arrangements

for dinner

the

tlieatre.

And

all

that lot survives

also. This

is

or fortúnate again for

  • 4 MAKING

HISTORY

biographers.

But

I

doubt

how

far

any

 

o f

us

vvould

vvish

to

be

judged -

or judged

in

a public

sense

-

on evidence

of tliis casual,

and essentially unconsidered kind.

 

So

thcre

are

two

possible

subjects

here,

and

the

best

two

biographies, hitherto,

have

taken

opposite

courses.

The

standard

academic

biography

by

Ralph

Wardle

is

painstaking

and,

on

occasion,

pedestrian;

but

it

maintains

a

seriousness

tovvards

its

subject’s intellectual

identitfc,

examhiing

her writings

with

care but

tuming

its

back

upon

any sustained

analysis

of

her

sexual

predicament.

Wollstonecraft,

one

feels,

rnight

have

approved

this

approach.

More

renentlv

 

George

has

published

in

the

United

States,

but

not,

so

far

as

I

am

aw are^in

Britain,

a

higlily-intelligent

analysis (One Woman's

‘Siíuation,' Illinois,

1970)

of her

subject’s

personal

evolution

and

predicament.

Both

books

are

to

be

strongly

recommended,

although

neither,

in

my

view,

even when taken togetherBgive

a

fiill

view

of

Wollstonecraft’s

originality and ^tjtuyeá 1 liad hoped to wQlfrMf

Tomalin’s

book,

and

in

a way

I

do. Tlie books fev WadHe and George are better.

But Tomalin has

attacked \ja subject wijH 2$¡ífc. Spe^has tumed up

a -fgW ’new facts,

althougli her documpnfcitigiii

(deliberately)

sd '^ b p p ^

that

it

is

difficult see what is new* and ?fp&« she has borrowed from Wardle and others. She has read^ luiÉliid her subject td place her in a

context: the placings succeed on occasion,

ufteb

they

concern

personalities and not ideas. The chapter on Wdlfctonecraft’s expcri-

cnces as govemcss to LcSSl and Lady JtijKsborough

is perceptive -

the best treatnient

of this which I have rcad. And the book flows

along nicely -

an inquisitive

feniinine

narrative which readers will

enjoy.

The

book

will

ccrtainly

go:

it is a calculated book club

choice.

 
 

It

is

this

fact

which

relieves

me

from

an

inliibition

against

saying that I dislike it a good deai. It is a book which diminishes

tlie staturc of its subjcct. And, by a sick irony, it docs this

in ways

which are supposedly characteristically feniinine.

Whcrevcr Tomalin

deais with

central

political

or

intellectual

issues,

her

manner

and

her matter is commonplace, personalised, or crassly philistine. Her French revolution is a madly-interesting scene with swinging intellectuals followed by a predictable plebeian Terror. (In England,

MARY

WOLLSTONECRAFT

5

it was

‘the signal

for everyone to rush to extremes’.) Tomalin is

against extremes,

and,

as

the

book proceeds,

it becomcs

apparcnt

that no one is vvholly balanced and mature except the autlior:

certainly not Wollstonecraft, for whom she is always making sophisticated psycnoIogCT* allovvances. After all, Wollstonecraft did not have the bfeljHrt of reading Frcud, Durklieim or Kenneth Tynan. Tlie political philosophy of Godwin and of Holcroft is sketched in boldly: ‘their enthusiasm for perfectibility was such that they

envisaged the end of all superstition, crinie, war, illness

and even

...

sleep

and death itself.’ Any attentive reader of Jilly Cooper’s

weekly colunui ¡¡júll know hersHf j*tefl|than that: and, since this is

so, Tomalin

need.caffy her investigaflMli

of Godwra’s thought no

furtlier.

 

It

follows

that

Tomalin

is

very

little

interested

in

Woll-

stoneírañ’s thought either.

She u n d ii^ ^B h jP th e

RightHof Man-,

condescends to the V i n d i c a t i o n T discusscs the late

(and Rlportant) Letlers from Sweden at alKBy contrast, she hovers

Jingetingly

above

cach

personal

encounter

or

prívate

letter,

and

pokes around knowingly

for hidden

sexual motives.

While

only

a

few lines of the Vindication are cited, we have passage añer

passage of the letters to Imlay, some

of them provoking the most

interesling questions:

could tliere be %n allusion to a flirtation witli

another nian here’?

The basis of Wollstonecraft’s

precarious independence,

and the

very precondition

of her ever writing the Vindmttion, was secured

when she was befriended

by

that

very

remarkable Dissenting

publisher, Joseph Joluison, who provided her with regular work, an

income, and lodgings.

Tliis is the only episode in her subject’s life

which has Tomalin baffled. Johnson

(49) was beffiending

‘Mary,’

‘youiigish’

(28). And

yet tliere

is no evidence

as

to

even

a putative

sexual encounter. For Tomalin, this is utterly improper. She implies

(witli no evidence)

that perhaps

Joluison

was

a homosexual;

or,

when

he invited ‘Mary’ to work for liim, "perhaps he was in a

manic moment such as come to

certain

asthmatics.’ At any rate,

‘Johnson’s

interest

in

women

as anything

otlier tlian friends

was

either extremely

discreet or, more

probably, non-existent.’ And (a

final solution) ‘they played at fathers and daughters’.

 

‘Women as anything otlier than friends’ -

could our sexually

  • 6 MAKING

HISTORY

hyperconscious

age

condenm

itself

more

clearly

tiran

tliis?

We

know

notliing

about Johnson’s

sexual incliuations

and (one might

add

in

passing),

since

we

do

know

notliing,

speculation

on

the

subject

is

more

suited to a gossip

column

tlian

a

history

book.

What we do know about Johnson

is

that

he

was

a good judge

of

authors;

he

published

ultra-radical

and

feminist

books

throughout

tlie

1790s;

he

was

the

friend

of

other

writers

 

with

feminist

sympathies

-

Mary Hays, William

Frend, George

Dyer -

and liis

loyalty

to diese

people

and causes led

him

 

in

the

end

to prison.

When

Wollstonecraft

arrived

on

his

doorstepj

Jolinson

needed

a

rcliable

full-time

editorial

assistant:

his

need

and

her

ability

and

predicament

matched

each

other.

Is

it

not

conceivable

that

they

actually became fríe neis, agreeing to set aside or distance Tomalin’s

obligatory

‘anything other than’? It is even possible

that tliey were

‘playing at’ being comrades in a common

political

and intellectual

endeavour -

a

game

which

I

fear

our

own

sophisticated

world

would regard with knowing disbelief.

But

it

tliis

M tm

S ^ ^ iita ria ii

comradeship

for

wliich

was Wollstonecraft attempraf to

t the

ruSf

Against

Rousseau’s

sophistry, that educated women

would

lose their

power over m ai.l

she replied: ‘Tliis is the

I

aim

at.

I

do

not

 

them to

have power

over

men;

but

over

themselvesB

To

attempt

this

self-detemiination

in her

own

life,

entailed

a disregard for conven-

tion

which

required

qualities

which

can

easily

be

labelled

as

domineering,

wilful, egotistical. To attempt this also meant tliat she

must suffer in her own experience

as she pressed against each

one

of those boundaries which she liad already defined in her writings.

As

Margaret George

has

written:

‘With

that detemiination

to

be

“ free” Mary proceeded to successive revelations of the limits -

external

and

self-iniposcd

of her

freedonv.

With

extraordinary

- tenacity, she hcrself sought

to

bring

those

 

two

subjeets

-

her

philosophy and her biography -

into

one:

as Godwin

vvrote, she

‘liad through life tramped on those rules which are built on the

assumption of the imbccility

of her

sex’. She was

bound to suffer;

and her suffering,

expressed

in letters never intended

for publica-

tion,

and

in

a

style

of self-dramatising,

over-artieulate

‘sensibility

 

nurtured by Rousscau's Conféx.sions and the Sorrows of IVerlher, is altogcthcr too ‘hcavy* for tlic flip insensibility of our own times.

MARY

WOLLSTONECRAFT

7

So Wollstonecraft has bccome

a

bit

of

a

bore.

Each gcncration

does

hcr over again

in

its ovvn

iniage.

Tile anti-Jacobins did her as

a

prostitute.

The

bourgeois

feminists

did

hcr

as

a bourgeois

feminist.

More

recently,

in

1947,

two

American

Freudians (one,

shaiiiefully, a woman) did her over as a bitch motivated by

penis-envy: ‘the shadow of the phallus lay darkly, threateningly

over all tliat she did.’ As against this, ^omalin’s doings are greatly

preferable. Wollstonecraft -

or

‘Mary’, as she must

always cali her

^ is now seen as a preniatuffljinliabitant of our own literary and

feminine nortli London:

pren pK reío t only. ift the fact of living

in

the I790s but also in disnlavUré JülÉiÜ fl immaturities which, from tlie composure of our advanced wc may easily detect,

smile at, but malee allB B U Mg for. Every mature professional

woman today, who has ‘w'orked hard at’ hcr tdgfbnships,

‘come to

tenns vvith’ her sexuality,

and who

is never manic

or extreme

in

her

feminism,

can

recognise

instantly in Tomalin’s

Mary

tiiat

exasperating neighbour, or oíd collÉS friend, who is always getting

into muddles and - in the moment of denouncing us for our

conventionality

-

falling

fíat on

her

own

face.

And

every

unin-

fonned malo reviewer can E É ¿lw m M ^H ^& 8 q u a Ilv

clearly. For

tlie Daily Telegraph Magazine, tlns

is

the

Ibook

of the

week’:

Mary liad ‘an acute shortageWf worldly wisdoni’;

‘she fell

in love

with channing

rotters’; she

‘g a j|

jjM Fto

a

tragic

bastard’ -

‘a

niagnificent and touching

failure.’ Prediwfflly, she leads The Times

review page as

‘Poor Mary’: her

Ufe

is

seen

as

a

‘comedy’ which

(we are chivalrously wamed) it is too easy to laugh at.

 

fiimiy.

Ñor

can I

see

it

as any

I do not find Wollstonecraft’s life kind of failure. I see her as a major

intellectual,

and

as one of the

greatest of Englishwomen. There were scores of thousands of women

in

the

1790s who

were domineering,

or who professed sensibility

excessively,

or who

got into

personal muddles; just as there were

scores of thousands of men who were vain, cock-sure and who drank too much. But there was only one Wollstonecraft, just as there was

only one Paine. It is the plus that matters. Large innovations

in

tliought and sensibility often arise after so many and so prolonged

premonitions that tliey appear to us, in retrospect, as mere common-

places. Paine’s Rights o f Man

and Wollstonecraft’s Vindication both

have this air: it is a puzzle that no one liad written tliem before.

  • 8 MAKING

HISTORY

 

But no

one liad.

And, once written, the temis of argument were

forever changcd.

It

is difficult

to know

wliich

book

proposed the

larger claims:

but since women

make

up

one

half o f

the

species,

tlie honours

may rest with Wollstonecraft.

Her arguments,

in

this

book and in otlier places, could have been niade with more system.

But

tliey

were

not

negligible:

tliey

could

be

repressed,

but tliey

could

not

be

expunged.

Ñor w er^ th ey

repressed

as

utterly

as

Tomalin,

in her final chapter, proposgjPShe has

siniply

 

looked

in

the wrong places. She mould baje looked,

instead, at the Shelleyan

tradition carried tlirough to Tilomas Hardy and William

Morris: or

at

Amia

Wheeler

and

William

Thompson:

at

Owenites

and

free-tliinkers.

 
 

Ñor

is

this

all. Paine’s book

is better written,

better structured.

But Wollstonecraft’s

is

the

more

complex

sensibility.

She

by

no

means

swam

along

^ S l y

with

the

current

of

18th

 

century

rationalism:

she oñen stmck across it, creating within

it a romantic

and critical eddy.

 

She liad suffered

too

niuch

in

her

own

human

nature

-

and she liad ^ fe^M ^S ^ ^ ^^ c-.lo selvP Paris at

the height

of tlie

Terror -

not to fiíj^^^^^^So n s

about Godvvinian optimism.

More than

t h iJ i n O E W

a iS ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ S

of

the

annunciation

of

‘bourgeois

feminismjj she was one of those most

alert

to

the

limitations

of bourgeois political thought.

As

a

woman,

she

liad

fully experienced the forcé of property rights, both in personal and

in

social

life;

and

she

knew

the

hollowness

of

programmes

of

mcrely-political

emancipation

to people

held

in economic

depend-

ency.

Henee

her

writing

always

showed

an

alertness

 

to

social

injusticc, and - as in her Letters from Sweden - a disgust at

asccndant coniniercialisni.

In this

way, she spliced

togetlier

femin-

ism and social radicalism at the very start.

 
 

As

for her

life:

1 know

that I would

not have lived

it

so well,

and I think it arrogant in any biographer to assumc,

too easily,

that

it

could

have

been

lived

better.

This

was

not,

after

all,

north

London in

1974.

It

was

a

rough

time:

and

the

place

 

was

lcss

provided

with

our niodem

supportive

amcnitics.

(There

was

not,

come

to think

of it, a Tavistock clinic

to takc one’s

horrors to, ñor

a social

worker to advise

her

on

her

bastard cliild.)

She

fell

into

one

or two holes:

 

and she dug hcrself out,

with her own

nails.

She

never asked anvone

to extrieate her. cxcept

for linlav.

and she

had

MARY

WOLLSTONECRAFT

9

-

or

do

we not allow

tliis

now? -

a little

claim 011 him.

Even from

Imlay

she

would

 

accept

-

if

affection

had dicd

-

no

alms

or

maintenance.

She wcnt

on

her own

way,

as

a

solitary

walker.

She

not

only

took

upon

herself thc

full

conscqucnccs

of her

convic-

tions, in a world whosc mies

she had

not made,

but

she

had thc

 

resilience

to

get

up

(she,

a

deserted

mistress

fished

out

of the

Thames) and resume her work of inragining the rules for egalitarian comradeship once more.

 

We

have

rarely

seen

A r

equal in our history. To Tomalin’s

mature assessment,

I prefer infinnHtyRhe words of Virginia Woolf,

where

she

speaks

of

xa# high-handed

and hot-blooded

manner

in

which

she

cut her

way

to

the

qlljVfc of

lif e J And

as Woolf well

knew,

liigh-handedness

brings

HwWi

its

revenges.

Wollstonecraft

was

prepared

for

these:

but

what

she

does

not

deserve

is

the

revcfígS

of ‘Poor Mary!’ blazoncd

across

a complacent

press.

She

needs

no

one’s

condesccnsion.

She

was poor in nothing.

She was

never

beaten. And the

evidence lies in

tliat part of her which

remainffl

a child

to

the refusal to become

the

- careful and ‘knowing,’ the resilient assent to

end

o f

the

chapter.

For that

part

of her

new experience -

is exactly that part which

most

of us

are careful

 

to

cauterise,

and

then

to

protect

witli

the

callouses

of

our

worldly-wise complicities.

 
 

From New Socieíy,

19th September

1974, reviewing Claire Tomalin's

The Life and Death o f Mary Wollstonecraft, Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Eleanor Marx

This

book

has

already

received

a

generous

welcome,

and

¡t

deserves

to

do

so.

Ja

my

own

view

it

does

not fiilfil

the promise

of

the

first

volume

(Eleonor Marx:

Family

Life,

1855-1883),

published five years ago. But it is a work of vitality and of

scholarship, and it draws more fully upon unpublished

correspond-

ence of Eleanor Marx and of Engels’s

circle

than

has

ever

been

done before.

So it is,

and is

likely

to remaiii,

an important study.

But

it

is

not

an objective

study.

The

reader who

does

not like

to be manipulated -

to be nudged through

the

evidence

towards a

prescribed conclusión,

now

 

asked

to

tum

his

head

this

way

and

now ordered to cióse his

eyes,

and now

shown

only

an approved

portion of the evidence -

such

a reader will

still

prefer Chushichi

Tsuzuki’s ten-year-old biography.

 

Tsuzuki

lays

out

very

clearly,

and

sometimes

tersely,

the

evidence,

and invites the

reader to

 

form

a judgement.

Kapp

does

not.

She

is

wholly

entitled

to

write

a

very

different,

and

(as

she

supposes) less ‘académica biography. This will

be,

for

many

readers, the

virtue

of

her

book.

It

is,

without

any pretence,

engagingly

partisan.

She

seeks

to

 

enter

without

reserve

into

the

consciousness of her heroine -

or hero

(for in

the longest,

180-page

section of the book, Engels displaces Eleanor as the central figure).

She quotes liberally

from her

(or

his)

letters,

sees

the

world

(usually an obtuse and intractable world) through their eyes,

enters

with

wit

and

matice

into their

 

quarrels,

encounters

the

dramaíis

personae of the British and European socialist movements

(usually

a bungling

or treacherous, and always

a politically-backward

cast)

as Eleanor or Engels cncountered them, and generally she lays

about her with zest and humour.

 

All

this

is

good

fun, and

sometimes

it

really

is.

The

very

interesting

(if

sad)

long

section

on

Engels

is

called

‘The Last

Lustre of the General’. We must certainly hope that this is far from

the

last, but it must certainly

be

a late lustre of Yvonne

Kapp; and

ELEANOR

MARX

It

it is thc lustre of an indomitablc and loyal orthodox Communist who is posscssed of thc superb confidcnce and maturity gaincd by standing in one place while an obtusc and intractablc vvorld pcrsists in its wilfully trcachcrous and backward courscs. Elcanor’s suicide,

she iniplies,

was

influcnccd

-

if not provoked

-

by

her

lack of

preparedness

for

a

similar

expericnce.

 

‘The

mainstream

of

the

British working-class movement -

her

native

element

-

was

flowing

ever more

swiftly,

broadly

and deeply

into

cliannels

far

removed

from

Marxism,

to

leave

her

in

a rivulet

whose

currcnt

would

not

be strong

enough

 

to

bear her forward.’ Eleanor,

who

was

‘political

from

top

to toe’,

‘had thought to

see the dawn

of a

new world. For her the light receded and she would not stay.’

Tliis is not convincing.

But that suicide has now been discussed

a good deal before a British public wliich has even witnessed

it on

televisión.

It might

be more

 

respectful to

this

very political

and

gifted English daughter of Marx to

 

on her contribution to

the early

socialist

A n d JjH B ffl

good

fun

of Kapp’s

polemic

does

not

movement. Jsjg í■ us

so

far.

For tJfl? tliing

it

camiot

be

sustained

witliout

doing

repeated injustice

to

all

fellow

socialists

who

lay

outside

the

immediate

guidance of tlie Engels family

circle. For another it requires situating ourselves totally within this

circle and accepting it at its own valuation.

 
 

One

is

irritated

less

witli

‘Tussy™(Eleanor),

whose

loyalty to

‘the

General’ is

wholly

forgivable

tlian with

Engels

himself:

and

also with

Kapp.

By

tlie time

of his

‘last lustre’ Engels had lived

for fifty years in England; and yet, inside his residence in Regent’s Park Road, he might have been living inside some time-warp in the

Tardis.

The

English

shadows

which

flitted

outside

remained

(as

tliey did

not

for Marx)

'thenC. ‘Their art seems

rather better tlian

their literature and their poetry better than tlieir prose’, he remarked in a generous mood in 1884. By 1894 he was ten years more grumpy and less generous: when Dr Ludwig Freyberger (soon to

niarry Louise Kautsky and move

into

Regent’s

Park Road) tumed

up from Vienna, Engels announced to Sorge tliat he had ‘already

shown the

English

that more

medicine

is

leanit on the Continent

than here’, ‘the clumsy people here cannot come up to the Vienna

standard’, British practitioners

were inferior

in physiology,

pathol-

ogy, surgery, etc etc. Yvonne

Kapp snorts at this, but when Engels

12

MAKING

HISTORY

repeatedly offers judgements as to the British Socialist movement and its personnel of a similar ill-informed and rancorous levity, she

neither snorts ñor hems ñor haws. She receives dedication of a devotee.

his

writ with the

 

Now

let

us

put the

record down

a little

more

coolly,

and take

a

closer vievv.

Eleanor Marx Aveling

and

Edward Aveling

were

on

tlie Executive of the

SDF in

1884 and formed

part of the

‘cabal’

which,

provoked by Hyndman’s

dictatorial

methods,

resigned

 

to

fomi the Socialist League. In this secession

(which may have been

a

tactical

error)

they

were

íully

supported

by

Engels,

on

the

grounds

that

‘the

whole

Federation was really nothing

but

a

swindle.’ Tliis general (but not very precise or political) judgement

suffices

as

a guide

for

Kapp

for

the

next

600

or

so pages:

Hyndman

and

all

the

SDF

are

dismissed

(until

in

1896

the

Avelings

rejoin

it)

as

a swindle.

We

have

Engels’s

autliority

for

this, after all.

 

Next the Avelings (for at this stage they acted together) served

on tlie executive

of the

Socialist League.

Engels

advised

that the

League was strong enough only to run a monthly joumal; William

Morris (and the majority) wanted a weekly joumal around which

they could build the League. After 15 montlis

Morris liad his way,

and

‘Eleanor

and Aveling

took

the

opportunity

to withdraw’.

Eleanor wrote to her sister, Laura#A n awfiil mess they’ll

make of

it

e’er

long.

By dint

of much

arguing the General and I induced

Ed[ward] to give up the sub-editorship.’ Edward ‘really has not the

time

and more important, there

is no one here really dependable

we have no-one.’ The position

-

a frequent

cry

-

‘was impossible’.

‘Here

all

is

a niuddle’,

chorused

Engels:

‘Tlie

tuming of Commonweal into a “ weekly”

-

absurd in every respect

- for this now incalculable organ

has given

Edward a chance

of gctting

out of his

responsibility

It would be ridiculous

to expect

the working

class

to

take

the

slightest

notice

of thcse various

vagaries of what is by courtesy called English

Socialism,’ etc. etc.

etc.

Kapp evidently

approvcs their political realism

and

sagacitv,

noting

that

Aveling

was replaced by Bax, and that Elcanor’s

‘International Record’ was taken over by May Morris ‘who liad not

quite the same facilities as Eleanor to gather detailed

news

from all

over

F.urope.

includiug

Russia.

as

well

as botli

Nortli and

South

ELEANOR

MARX

13

America.'

Exactly so:

the ncw socialist weckly

(and,

as

ít provcd

to

be

for

at

least two

years, very

much

the

bcst socialist

weckly

appcaring

in

Britain) was as a delibérate

act of policy deprived

of

Elcanor’s Services and Engcls’s incomparable information.

Next the

Avelings

werc

off (in

the

autumn

of

1886) for their

lecture tour of tíie

United

States, to which

another

story attachcs.

Retuming,

they

gave

up

time

and

cffort

to

lecturing

at

Radical

Clubs.

This

was

uscfi.il

work,

but

did

it

really

entitle

Engels

to

write, like

a gushing

aunt, that ‘at present the Avelings

are doing

more than anyone

else

here,

and being

more

effective

...

’?

‘If all

goes well,’ he crowed, ’ it will push the Social Democratic

Federation

as

well

as

the

Socialist

League

into

the

background.’

Tliis

is oddnsince

members

of both

those

bodies,

as

well

as

tire

indcfatigable

Fabian, Bcrnard Shaw, were busy lecturing to Radical

Clubs in the same period.

(But Engels, inside the Tardis, could not

be expected to

know

that). Next, th e^8 8 7

Annual Conference

of

the

League,

which,

after a finely-balanced

argument,

 

voted

to

abstain

from

parliamentary

action.

I liave® argued,

 

in

my

William

Morris,

that

the

‘parliamentarians’

forced

the

wrong

issue

in

the

wrong way, thereby forcing Morris into anarchist arnrs. The

decisión,

Kapp

notes,

‘carne

dangerously

near

to

rendering

the

Socialist

League

impotent.

Neither

Eleand# ñor

Aveling

allowed

their ñames to go forward for election to the Central Council.’

 

My point

is

that the

tactics of the Avelings

(forced on at every

stage by

Engels)

were

self-fulfilling.

Whenever

political

 

disagree-

rnents

aróse,

the

Avelings

withdrew

from

engagement

and

drove

their

allies

into

their opponents’

anns.

Everyone

else

was always

‘impossible’:

‘we

have no-one’ (although

Emest

Belfort

Bax, the

only

pronrinent

English

Socialist who

was sonretimes

admitted

to

the

Tardis

on

Engels’s

sociable

Sunday nights, was sometimes

acclaimed as

‘onrs’’). So the Avelings

fall back on the Bloomsbury

Socialist Society. Now if anyone else

liad fallen

back on

a society

with such a ñame, Yvonne

Kapp would

have

split our sides

witli

the bolts

of her

sarcasnr. But on this

occasion

she tells

us almost

nothing

about this

society

(and less

than

Tsuzuki)

and

does

not

even mention tlie activities of Alexander Karley Donald, its leading

political

liglit,

a

solicitor,

litterateur

and

heavy

political

<