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New Left Review I/43, May-June 1967

Nicos Poulantzas

Marxist Political Theory in Britain

In the last few years an important current of Marxist thought has emerged in Great Britain. The editorial committee of New Left Review, particularly Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn, have undertaken a political study of the structures of British society in a number of articles, which include Anderson’s ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’ [1] New Left Review 23, January-February 1964. and Nairn’s ‘The Nature of the Labour Party’ [2] New Left Review 27 and 28, September-October and November-December 1964. and ‘Labour Imperialism’. [3] New Left Review 32, July-August 1965. These articles are particularly important both for the originality of their conclusions and for their theoretical rigour. Breaking with the English empiricist tradition, which dominated Fabianism, these texts of Anderson and Nairn are written at a critical level, in the Marxist meaning of that term: they reveal a genuine, critical reflection on the concepts used in the political analysis advanced. In reply E. P. Thompson, a member of the former editorial committee of New Left Review, has published a long essay, ‘The Peculiarities of the English’ [4] The Socialist Register 1965. which challenges the conclusions of Anderson’s and Nairn’s analyses with a vigour and verve characteristic of current political discussion in Great Britain. There is no point in summarizing the Anderson-Nairn articles in detail, but the need to read and re-read the articles themselves cannot be overemphasized, for they deserve to be considered exemplary texts of Marxist political analysis. We will simply recall their essential theses and the points attacked by Thompson, with a quotation from Anderson’s central article:

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