Peoples' Resistance to the Market
E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture, The New Press, New York; Merlin Press, London, 1991; pp. xli + 567, $29.95 (hb).
This book has been in the making for almost thirty years but its appearance is well timed. After spending the 1980s in the anti-nuclear weapons movement, Thompson has returned to round off his historical studies begun in the mid-1960s. These studies have as their unifying theme the popular resistance to the introduction of a market-based economy in eighteenth century England. Today, as the champions of the free market proclaim no escape from the invisible hand, it is a good time to recall the voices of those present at the birth of the market's freedom. Thompson, in The Making of the English Working Class and in the essays of this book, refuses to placidly accept the fate of the market's victims, to glide over their experiences with an attitude of inevitability, or consign their resistance to futile gestures bucking 'the tide of history'. The people expropriated from the land, denied access to the forest, deprived of bread and subjected to the discipline of the factories are the subjects of Thompson's history. If it is difficult to adopt a resigned attitude to the market's global process of expropriation today—e.g. the IMF-enforced austerity programmes, the clear cutting of the forests, the starvation in Africa and elsewhere—why should we assume the similar process two hundred years earlier was inevitable and decline to carefully consider the perspectives of its antagonists? Thompson's recovery of the forms and ideologies of resistance to the market's introduction is an inspiration to find methods to tame the market's contemporary unchecked growth.
For readers of Thompson's journal articles over the years, this book is in one sense a convenient bound collection of them: two articles are reprinted in their original form ('Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism' and 'The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century') and one is expanded with little change in argument ('Rough Music'). However, there are features of the book which make it more than a mere replacement for one's xerox copies; he
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 7-8, July-August, 1993