I can’t remember when exactly but earlier this year, around xmas maybe I dunno, I finally finished Thompson’s mammoth Making book, which was fantabulous. More Thompson is on my summer reading list, once summer finally settles in. For now, some quotes, all from Herbert Gutman, many referencing or quoting Thompson.

Gutman quotes Thompson “There is no such thing as economic growth which is not, at the same time, growth or change or a culture” while at the same time “we should not assume any automatic, or over-direct correspondence between the dynamic of economic growth and the dynamic of social or cultural life.” (In Gutman’s _Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America_, 33, the Thompson quotes are from the Making 97 and 192.)

Gutman writes that historical “[t]ransitions differ and depend upon the interaction between” groups who enter a condition or structure new for them and that structure or condition “at specific historical moments. But at all times there is a resultant tension. Thompson writes: “There has never been any single type of “the transition.” The stress of the transition falls upon the whole culture: resistance to change and assent to change arises from the whole culture. And this culture includes the systems of power, property-relations, religious institutions, etc., inattention to which merely flattens phenomena and trivializes analysis.” (74. The Thompson is from the “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” essay, 80.)

Gutman writes that “a great deal is misunderstood and lost by exclusive emphasis on national policy and on the intent of national leaders. (…) In another context the British historian E.P. Thompson has perceptively criticized such a perspective because it neglects “the tensions and lines of growth in movements which … have always been exceptionally responsive to problems of local social and industrial context.” (194, from an essay called “Homage to Tom McGuire in a volume edited by Briggs and Saville.)

Gutman quotes Braudel that “victorious events come about as the result of many possibilities,” and that “for one possibility which is actually realized, innumerable others have drowned. (…) [I]t is necessary to give them their place because the losing movements are forces which have at every moment affected the final outcome.” (67, I can’t find a citation for the Braudel quote, anyone know it?)

Gutman is more than a ventriloquist or quote hunter (*ahem*). He writes that “in studying the history of dependent American social classes” which he defines as “slaves and poor free blacks, immigrant and native-born wage earners, male and female blue- and white-collar workers, and union and nonunion laborers” “how they interpreted and then dealt with changing patters of economic, social, and political dependence and inequality becomes our major concern. Studying the choice working men and women made and how their behavior affected important historical processes” is what Gutman champions. (“Labor History and the “Sartre Question” in Power and Culture, 326.)

In an interview Gutman says that “the 1880s [were] a period of intense debate over the ways in which capitalism had transformed America” in response to which “[w]orking-class movements developed alternative institutions and beliefs. The cooperative, for example, was a very important central institution in that period. There were thousands of working-class cooperatives. Most of them failed, but that is not the point. If you look at the scale of enterprise, the cooperative was an appropriate response to wage-labor dependency. (…) The cooperatives were anti-capitalists but have often been treated as spurious and utopian working-class efforts. That’s a mistake.” (“Interview with Herbert Gutman” 335.)

On “labor histories (…) of the Old Left – such as the work of Philip Foner” Gutman says that “[a]t the core of the labor history of the Old Let was a critique of the traditional leadership of the American labor movement. This leadership, it was argued, consistently misled well-intentioned workers and thus was responsible for the failure of a sustained socialist movement to emerge in the United States. This “essentialist” critique was made not simply of the craft unions but of the earlier so-called utopian unions as well. The Knights of Labor, according to the Old Left, were as much bearers of false consciousness as the American Federation of Labor. This explanation of the absence of a socialist movement in the United States was inadequate and misleading. But it rested on a certain politics and a deterministic philosophy of history. (…) The new labor history also rests on a certain politics and is inspired by a distinctive philosophy of history. Much of it, in this country and in Western Europe, developed in response to and out of the decomposition of classical Marxism. One things of someone like Thompson. His work comes out of the Marxist tradition while it reacts against Stalinist historiography. This new labor history rejects the deterministic models that the labor history of the Old Left rested on” but is no less to the left. (342.)

“Much of the new labor history – at least the best of it – rejects what is essentially the Old Left’s version of the Whig fallacy of history. It refuses to look at a period of history simply as a precursor of the moment that we are currently living in. Freeing ourselves from the present in that way brings to life movements, brings to life a politics in the past, that were submerged by the crude presentism of the older labor history whether of the left or the center.” (343.)

In response to the question “why has there been no mass socialist movement in the United States?” Gutman responds “I don’t think that is a well-put historical question. We need to put aside notions that workers’ movements have developed properly elsewhere and in the United States they developed improperly (…) and then ask a set of very, very tough questions about what American workers actually thought and did – and why. Once we free ourselves of the notion that it should have happened in one particular way, then we stop looking for the reasons why it didn’t happen that way. If we don’t, then we end up offering explanations like the high rate of social mobility or that workers had the vote in America or a whole series of other single-factor explanations, as answers to what is a nonhistorical question.” (343.)

Gutman continues, “there is a Marxist version of the Whig fallacy. It comes from an essentialist view of workers or the working class, one that emphasizes a predetermined pattern of historical development.” (343.)

Asked what’s left of Marxism after the ideas of a direction or progress of history is left, Gutman responds “What is left when you clear away the determinist and teleological elements is good questions that direct your attention to critical ways of looking at ongoing historical processes. A fundamental contribution of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Marxist thinking is a set of questions having to do with the way in which one examines class relations and how they change, the way in which one examines the institutionalization of power, the way in which one examines popular oppositional movements, the way in which one examines the integration of subordinate or exploited groups into a social system. Those are some very useful questions. (…) Look at any given set of class relations. Most of the time subordinate populations live with their exploitation. They make adjustments. They create institutions to deal with inequality, to deal with the unequal distribution of scarce resources and wealth. They do so without seeking to transform the conditions that create or sustain their inequality. Then, under certain circumstances – none of them predictable – that acceptance is transformed into opposition.” (344.)

“One subject of great interest (…) given the collapse of deterministic models is the study of the conditions under which popular opposition emerges. (…) Once a movement has emerged, its tenaciousness, its successes, its limitations, are all questions for historians of popular movements, especially if we put aside notions of an elite, vanguard leadership.” (345.)

“In his argument with Stalinism and determinist Marxism, Jean-Paul Sartre put it very well. He said that the essential question for study – this is a paraphrase – is not what has been done to men and women but what men and women do with what has been done to them. That is also a Thompsonite formulation. (…) W.E.B. Du Bois argued for this approach when he wrote _Black Reconstruction_, and it is what C.L.R. James’s historical writings are about. One you surrender the fixed older forms of historical explanation and process, the future becomes open.” (346.)

“The way in which you examine a world people make is to show that world in formation (…) to examine a structural relationship, you cannot neglect the process by which that relationship was formed, how it developed. If you either ignore or misunderstand that process, then you can give almost any meaning you want to the relationship and to its constituent parts.” (353.)

[Note to self, revisit Kant on moral vs natural philosophy and try to map that in relation to debates about structure and agency]

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