Contributions to the Long Revolution: Raymond Williams and the Politics of the Postwar New Left

  • Seth Moglen


In recent months, as I have been rereading and writing about Raymond Williams, I have often been asked by friends — mostly students and activists in their twenties and thirties — why I would spend my energies in these politically urgent times trying to extend the project of a socialist thinker of the last generation. For readers among the British left, this question will no doubt seem ill-informed and inappropriate: it is enough to say that, at his death in January 1988, Raymond Williams was probably the most influential socialist theorist in the English-speaking world; certainly the most influential to emerge from the postwar New Left. But my euphoric friends in Hungary and Czechoslovakia will not be satisfied by this: having participated in the great popular revolution of our time, in the process now of freeing themselves from the ossified forms of an authoritarian system that justified itself in the name of socialism, they want to know why we, or they, should be thinking in the 1990s about the extension and renewal of any socialist project. Oddly enough, I face the same questions from friends and colleagues in the USA — many of them committed activists in the peace, ecology, and feminist movements: they tell me there is too much urgent political work to be done for us to be searching through the remnants of an anachronistic political movement, no matter how eloquent its intellectuals.


Labour Movement Cultural Revolution Labour Party Common Culture Socialist Project 
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  1. 1.
    For Williams’s own account of his experience of the British Communist Party, see Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review (London: New Left Books, 1979; Verso, 1981) chapter 1. particularly pp. 41–54 and 88–93.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985) p. 313.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984) pp. 328–9.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Raymond Williams, Towards 2000 (London: Chatto and Windus, 1983) p. 173.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Pressure of space here will obviously not allow for even a cursory history of the early British New Left. One of the few academic treatments of the first phase of the movement in Britain can be found in Nigel Young, An Infantile Disorder? The Crisis and Decline of the New Left (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1977). For accounts of the early British New Left by participants, see Oxford University Socialist Discussion Group (eds), Out of Apathy: Voices of the New Left 30 Years On (London: Verso, 1989).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Edward Thompson, ‘The Long Revolution’, New Left Review, 9, MayJune 1961, p. 24.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Raymond Williams (ed.), The May Day Manifesto 1968 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) pp. 15–16.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    It should be emphasised that this essay cannot attempt a summary of Williams’s political ideas, but seeks rather to offer a highly selective emphasis. Fortunately, there have appeared since Williams’s death a number of treatments of his work. For a useful summary of Williams’s views and activities, and an invaluable comprehensive bibliography of his writings, see Alan O’Connor, Raymond Williams: Writing, Culture, Politics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989). This bibliography is reprinted, along with a number of useful interpretive essays, in Terry Eagleton (ed.), Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989). For a critical outsider’s perspective, see Jan Gorak, The Alien Mind of Raymond Williams (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    The distinction between the two meanings of representation, and the related distinction between participatory and representative democracy, recur throughout Williams’s work, with increasing centrality. It is perhaps most concisely set out in Raymond Williams, Keywords (London: Fontana, 1976; London: Fontana, 1988) pp. 266–8.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    Raymond Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’, in Norman Mackenzie (ed.), Conviction (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1958) pp. 75–6.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    Raymond Williams, Communications (1962; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976) p 10.Google Scholar
  12. 40.
    For a specific treatment of the relation between the ecology movement and a socialist perspective, see Raymond Williams, ‘Socialism and Ecology’ (London: Socialist Environment and Resources Association Pamphlet, 1983) pp. 13–14 and 20; see also, more generally, Williams, Towards 2000, pp. 248–60.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • Seth Moglen

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