Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain

History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies

Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: Published: April 1997

Author: Dennis Dworkin

Cultural Studies, History > European History, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

In this intellectual history of British cultural Marxism, Dennis Dworkin explores one of the most influential bodies of contemporary thought. Tracing its development from beginnings in postwar Britain, through its various transformations in the 1960s and 1970s, to the emergence of British cultural studies at Birmingham, and up to the advent of Thatcherism, Dworkin shows this history to be one of a coherent intellectual tradition, a tradition that represents an implicit and explicit theoretical effort to resolve the crisis of the postwar British Left.
Limited to neither a single discipline nor a particular intellectual figure, this book comprehensively views British cultural Marxism in terms of the dialogue between historians and the originators of cultural studies and in its relationship to the new left and feminist movements. From the contributions of Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Sheila Rowbotham, Catherine Hall, and E. P. Thompson to those of Perry Anderson, Barbara Taylor, Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, and Stuart Hall, Dworkin examines the debates over issues of culture and society, structure and agency, experience and ideology, and theory and practice. The rise, demise, and reorganization of journals such as The Reasoner, The New Reasoner, Universities and Left Review, New Left Review, Past and Present, are also part of the history told in this volume. In every instance, the focus of Dworkin’s attention is the intellectual work seen in its political context. Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain captures the excitement and commitment that more than one generation of historians, literary critics, art historians, philosophers, and cultural theorists have felt about an unorthodox and critical tradition of Marxist theory.


Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain fills an especially acute need in the contemporary rassessment of the social roots and cultural contexts of avant-garde academic movements. . . . Dworkin assembles a convincing historical narrative of how a seemingly provisional reaction to the crisis of British welfare capitalism in the post-war period developed into a coherent and compelling subtradition of European Marxist social theory. . . . Dworkin’s new study manages to both creatively historicize a familiar—yet often misunderstood—recent academic and political formation as well as raise pressing methodological questions that cross the major disciplines of the human sciences.” — Alex Benchimol , Thesis Eleven

“[A] highly successful rejoinder to Stuart Hall’s suggestion that cultural studies had no ‘absolute beginnings.’” — George McKay , Anarchist Studies

“[T]he first comprehensive history of British cultural Marxism conceived as a coherent intellectual tradition. . . . Dworkin writes in a readable and accessible style, providing an excellent guide to those unfamiliar with the byzantine complexities of the postwar British Left.” — Martin Francis , Journal of Modern History

“Dennis Dworkin provides a careful and relatively comprehensive assessment of cultural Marxism’s emergence as a postwar British intellectual and political project, which developed around both history-writing and what came to be called cultural studies.” — Dan Schiller, Left History

“The strengths of Dworkin’s study are legion. He offers an excellent account of the break made by a number of intellectuals with the Communist Party of Great Britain. . . . Moreover, although an ardent enthusiast for the work of the cultural Marxists, Dworkin is not afraid to be critical of that work. . . . But most of all, Dworkin has written an important study insofar as it charts the evolution of a major strand of thought in postwar Britain and does so in part by making excellent use of unpublished papers and various interviews that the author undertook for the study.” — Chris Waters , American Historical Review

"Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain is impressive in its scholarship, thorough in giving recognition to the different tributaries of British cultural studies from the 1930s until the late 1970s and judicious in selecting from the material it takes into consideration. The book deserves to become a standard work of reference to the major intellectual developments relevant to cultural studies during this period." — International Journal of Cultural Studies

Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain is exceptionally well written, lucid, and well organized—and simultaneously accessible and sophisticated, both in its own internal argumentation and in its rendering of often complex and difficult debates.” — Geoff Eley, University of Michigan

“There is nothing comparable to this book. It is an important addition to the literatures on British cultural studies, the history of Marxist thought, and the history of social historiography. Speaking particularly as a representative for scholars in cultural studies, I am happy to have this history finally told in such an effective and coherent way.” — Lawrence Grossberg, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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