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133 reviews Perry Anderson, Arguments within English Marxism. London: New Left Books, 1980. 218 pp. $8.00 paper. Arguments within English Marxism continues the debate between Perry Anderson and E. P. Thompson that began almost two decades ago. The immediate occasion for the book is Thompson's recent The Poverty of Theory (New York, 1978), which features in its title essay a remarkable critique of Louis Althusser. There is thus now, in Althusser, a third party to the debate, though he appears only in the forms that the other two construct. An Althusserian response would be a valuable project. It might well focus on the problem of the status of empirical evidence, one place where Anderson aligns himself with Thompson in opposition to Althusser (Arguments, p. 6). Nicos Poulantzas, in "Marxist Political Theory in Great Britain" (New Left Review, 43, 1967), provides a foundation on which such a response could build. While the essay focuses mainly on Anderson, it suggests that Thompson shares the same "problematic" (p. 67), and Poulantzas defines incisively its historicist character. The task would be to show how this problematic unites Anderson and Thompson beneath their differences and informs their shared commitment to the empirical . While The Poverty of Theory features a critique of Althusser, it is also directed at Anderson and the New Left Review. There is a clear line to "The Poverty of Theory" (1978) from "The Peculiarities of the English" (1965), in which Thompson attacks Anderson's "Origins of the Present Crisis" (New Left Review, 23, 1964), as well as the essays by Thomas Nairn that flesh out parts of this programmatic essay. For "Peculiarities" ends with a threat that the later critique of Althusser carries out. The differences between Thompson and Anderson, even if framed within a shared problematic, are long-standing and deep. The present review seeks to structure these differences and to assess their significance. At the center of their debate is the question of whether history is a science. For Anderson , who believes it is, the question is one-ofmethod, and the answer is found in Popper (an odd prop for a Marxist to lean on). These convictions directly inform much of Anderson's critique. The Making of the English Working Class, for example, is faulted for failing to put its basic thesis adequately to the risk of falsification (Arguments, p. 39). This critique talks past Thompson, who is convinced that the reduction of science to method makes it all too easy to process any subject matter through the methodological machinery with the right connections and make it appear grandly scientific. Thompson insists (1) that any object of thought limits the knowledge one can have of it and (2) that in the case of history these limits preclude the possibility of scientific knowledge (Poverty, 18, 38, 49-50). Furthermore , Thompson argues passionately, any attempt to make history a science is dangerous in its tendency to authorize Stalinist repression in the name of scientific law. Thompson, in short, presents himself as a Marxist historian without scientific credentials . His project raises the question of whether the traditional claim of Marxism to be both a science and a revolutionary praxis has always been an impossible conflation of antinomies . Informed by deep historical knowledge and long political experience, both during and after the Stalin era, Thompson's work has, furthermore, been raising this question a long time, at least since the "muffled 'revisionism'" in William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (1955). His impressive achievement now constitutes a major challenge in contemporary Marxist discourse. It is thus an important event when Anderson, with his analytic acuity and great erudition, marches out to meet this challenge. Arguments within English Marxism is not the great work that might result from such an encounter, but it merits close attention. For Anderson exposes problems that Thompson hasn't solved and, unwittingly, also reveals why it is nonetheless difficult to avoid undertaking Thompson's project. The role of agency in history is obviously of central importance for Thompson. Anderson gives it the extensive attention it deserves in his second chapter, which closes with commentary on the game metaphor that Thompson uses in developing one of his most impor- 134 the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 133-137
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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