Willard Wolfe writes: May I make use of your pages to protest against the tissue of misrepresentations and outright fabrications that forms the substance of E. P. Thompson’s attack on my book, From Radicalism to Socialism, in nlr 99 (September—October 1976), p. 85? Of course, I have no right to complain of any judgement that Thompson may pass on my book, but his resort to fabricated ‘quotations’ and his assertions that I wrote the very opposite of what I really wrote must surely be corrected, both for the sake of basic intellectual honesty and because the argument of my book, when correctly stated, may be of real interest to readers of nlr.
It is surprising that Thompson’s article on William Morris should even have mentioned my book on early Fabian theory, as it contains only scattered references to Morris. (All the other books discussed by Thompson devote a chapter or more to Morris and the unwary reader might suppose that this was also the case with mine.) Thompson’s misrepresentations begin with a critical comment I made on his Morris book in a Bibliographical Note that is otherwise laudatory of it (as, indeed, I think highly of it and will welcome the new edition). Thompson rather grandly asserts that I made no effort to ‘correct’ his errors; surely a bibliographical comment does not call for that. In any case, what I actually wrote in that Note was that Thompson’s effort to portray Morris ‘as an orthodox Marxist’ (chiefly in the last section of his book) was ‘misguided’ (p. 320; also p. 176). ‘Orthodox’ is, of course, the crucial word, as I have repeatedly referred to Morris as a revolutionary Marxist (e.g. pp. 131 and 176) in a less rigid sense. More significantly, in light of his supercilious tone, the whole thrust of Thompson’s article is to agree with me that his earlier effort to establish Morris’s Marxist orthodoxy was indeed misguided, and it seems that he has now revised his book accordingly.
A much more serious distortion is his claim that I have made, ‘in succession’, three ‘judgements on Morris’s socialism’. In fact, the first of these is made up out of whole cloth, while numbers 2. and 3.—the numbering is Thompson’s—are scatter shots, located over 100 pages
In fact, what I actually wrote in my most extended (three sentence) comment on Morris was that his response to the challenge of urban poverty was ‘perhaps more genuinely revolutionary, in the sense of working for deeper and more permanent transformations in the lives of his fellow men’, than the response of any of his fellow recruits to the sdf, and that ‘both [Morris and fellow recruit, J. L. Joynes] were motivated primarily by a deep “hatred of modern civilization”, which they found soul-destroying even where it did not produce squalor or starvation. And that hatred formed the basis of their revolutionary hope.’ (p.95) All of this is commonplace enough, I am afraid—my book on the early Fabians touches only tangentially upon Morris—but it is the very opposite of what Thompson asserts that I wrote, and it surely does not suggest that I was motivated by any ‘ulterior dislike’ of Morris (who, in fact, I greatly admire). If Professor Thompson will take the trouble to read my book, he may discover this for himself.