“Guerrilla engagements on cultural questions”


Whatever EP Thompson says in the inaugural issue of NLR in his response to Alasdair MacIntyre’s “reproof to the New Left” is quite fair, especially:

1. Any serious engagement in cultural or political life should not dissipate, but generate, socialist energy. Because:

2. We do not have one “basic antagonism” at the place of work, and a series of remoter, more muffled antagonisms in the social or ideological “superstructure”, which are in some way less “real”. We have a class-divided society, in which conflicts of interest, and conflicts between capitalist and socialist ideas, values, and institutions take place all along the line. They take place in the health service and in the common room, and even—on rare occasions—on the television screen or in Parliament, as well as on the shop floor.

However, if we understand “basic” (as essent-ial) in a logical sense then the danger of which MacIntyre talks about lingers prominently even today (perhaps more prominently, with overproduction in the virtual free market of ideas) as in the 1950s-60s:

“The danger is that one will fight a series of guerrilla engagements on cultural questions which will dissipate socialist energy and lead nowhere. What one hopes is that opening up these questions will lead one to see the basic antagonism in our society at the point of production.”

Stuart Hall’s editorial for the inaugural issue of NLR


It is sometimes useful to read the older texts of socialist movements. They provide insights into our socio-ideological reality too. Stuart Hall’s opening write-up for NLR in 1960 is a decent piece to ground an effort like NLR in its contemporary context. We are still in the need to undertake the same tasks:

What we need now is a language sufficiently close to life—all aspects of it—to declare our discontent with “that same order”.

How very true, the language of discontent should be sufficiently close to life. If they are not so, it is once again ideological like any other ideology.

Now, on the dialectic of theory and practice:

At some point, the distant wariness between intellectual and industrial workers must be broken down.

The gap is seen as between workers, which is institutionalised through the so-called division of labour.

What we need are not only discussion groups, but centres of socialist work and activity—rallying points of disturbance and discontent within the local community, the nerve centres of a genuinely popular and informed socialist movement.

We definitely need “centres of socialist work and activity” grounded in concrete locations, today.

The last refuge of scoundrels today is no longer the appeal for “patriotism”, but the cry that we must sink our differences in the interests of Party Unity. Socialists should cease to squander their energies upon scoundrels, and should cease to allow them to betray the enthusiasm of the young.

How much we have wasted our energies in preserving Parties’ Unities (!), we know that.

And finally,

The Labour Movement is not in its insurrectionary phase: we are in our missionary phase. [We] must pioneer a way forward by working for socialism as the old missionaries worked: as if consumed by a fire that is capable of lighting the darker places in our society. We have to go out into towns and cities, universities and technical colleges, youth clubs and Trade Union branches, and—as Morris said—make socialists there.