Recovering the Libertarian Tradition

Thompson, E.P.; Ilott, Terry
Resource Type:  Pamphlet
Cx Number:  CX24527

An interview with E.P. Thompson.



I do not accept the view that the marxist tradition is anti-libertarian. I've argued at length that the first marxists in this country, of whom William Morris was, in a sense, one, were profoundly libertarian. The outrageous thing, which the majority marxist tradition has allowed to happen, is the confiscation of the notion of the democracy from our movement. It then becomes seen only as a mask - an element in bourgeois hegemony and so on. This is a total misreading of our own history and results from a confusion between the ideology of individual rights, which is certainly bourgeois (but not despicable for that reason) and the practical tradition of struggle for particular rights and practices, which is a popular tradition going back long before the Levellers and the Diggers and which includes the Chartists. We have to take back this democratic tradition that has been confiscated from us, and bring it into the heart of our movement again.

If we do not do that, we are in danger of falling into that theory of the repressive state, according to which all law, all police, all state apparatuses are to be opposed; and particular cases of degeneration - McNee calling for greater power, bending Judge's Rules, packing juries and so on - are regarded as mere examples which prove the theory. The result is to disarm people so that they simply say, well that is the bourgeois state; if it gets much worse perhaps we'll have a revolution. Instead of fighting on each occasion and in each instance, they capitulate to the process. I don't denounce all law. There will always be laws. We have to fight against bad laws and against the class-biased administration or imposition of law. Also, to break the law where, as in the case of illegitimate activity by the MI5 or Special Branch, we are duty bound to do so.

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