In the mid 80s, that is.

“I’m less and less interested in Marxism as a Theoretical System. I’m neither pro- nor anti- so much as bored with some of the argument that goes on. (…) I feel happier with the term “historical materialism” [than with the term Marxism]. And also with the sense that ideas and values are situated in a material context, and material needs are situated in a context of norms and expectations, and one turns around tis many-sided societal object of investigation. From one aspect it is a mode of production, from another a way of life. (…)

I think the provisional categories of Marxism to which Perry [Anderson] has referred – those of class, ideology, and mode of production, are difficult but still creative concepts. (…) Yet I also find in the tradition pressures toward reductionism, affording priority to “economy” over “culture”‘ and a radical confusion introduced by the chance metaphor of “base and superstructure.” I find a lot in the Marxist tradition – there are many Marxisms now – marked by what is ultimately a capitalist definition of human need, even though it was a revolutionary upside-downing of that definition. (…)

And where, again, from the materialist vocabulary do agency, initiatives, ideas, and even love come from? This is why I’m so concerned with Blake and Blake’s quarrel with the Deists and the Godwinian utilitarians. His political sympathies were with so many of their positions; and yet in the end he said there must be an affirmation, “Thou Shalt Love.” Where does the affirmative, “Thou Shalt Love,” come from? This argument with necessitarianism continues Milton’s old argument with predestination and prefigures today’s argument with determinisms and structuralisms – which themselves are ideologically-inflected products of a defeated and disillusioned age. If we can de-structure the Cold War, then a new age of ideas may be coming, as in the 1790s or the 1640s.”

(from “Agenda for Radical History”, an address given in October 1985, p492-4 in The Essential E.P. Thompson)

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