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New Left Review I/168, March-April 1988


Robin Blackburn

Raymond Williams and the Politics of a New Left

The death of Raymond Williams on January 26th robs the left in Britain of its most authoritative, consistent and radical voice. His loss is the more difficult to bear in that it was unexpected and came when he was at the height of his powers. Tributes to Williams have already appeared in many newspapers and periodicals, testifying to a widespread sense that the national culture is sorely impoverished by the death of its most acute critic. [*] Among tributes to Williams were those by Bill Webb, The Guardian, January 27th; Terry Eagleton and Frank Kermode, The Independent, January 28th; Francis Mulhern, The Guardian, January 29th; Blake Morrison, The Observer, January 31st; Anthony Barnett, The Listener, February 3rd; Tony Benn, The Morning Star, February 4th; Fred Inglis, The Times Higher Education Supplement, February 5th; Anthony Arblaster, Tribune, February 5th; Stuart Hall, The New Statesman, February 5th; Patrick Parrinder, The London Review of Books, February 12th; Judith Williamson, Anthony Barnett, Stuart Hall and Daffyd Ellis Thomas, Channel Four, February 28th; Margot Heinemann, Marxism Today, March 1988; Kevin Davey, Interlink, March 1988. Williams approached literature, cultural studies, communications and adult education in such radically new ways that he opened up fresh fields of study and practice. While this cultural work was linked to his conception of a democratic ‘long revolution’ its validity and importance were recognized by many who had no prior commitment to his anti-capitalist politics. Similarly Williams’s drama or novels contain political themes but, like all his writing, are couched in a language far removed from received political discourse. Part of the value of Williams’s work to the Left must be that it did not, and does not, belong to the Left alone. Yet, especially in this journal, it is appropriate to attend to the political meanings of Williams’s work and to begin, difficult as it is, to take the measure of his loss. It will take a long time and many hands to pick up the threads where he left them and we cannot hope to weave as fine an argument. But in however partial a way it is worth registering here those political pre-occupations which were integral to Williams’s vision and achievement.

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