PODCAST: Raymond Williams reading ‘You’re A Marxist, Aren’t You?’

The Raymond Williams Society blog for May features the first in a monthly series of podcasts from a new project on some recently discovered Williams recordings.

Phil O’Brien writes…

As I announced on the blog in February, I’m working on a project to digitise and make available for the first time a collection of previously unpublished recordings of Raymond Williams lectures. The first to be released is a tape from 1975 of Williams reading ‘You’re A Marxist, Aren’t You?’.

You can listen to it here:

The podcast’s introduction explains how Williams appears to be reading from notes, elaborating and, in part, extemporizing on a range of his positions. They are conclusions drawn from both experience and theory; it is, at times, a powerful personal account of an intensely political, historical, and social experience. Williams describes his first involvement with the British Labour Movement in the 1930s, Normandy in 1944, and the early days of New Left Review. It offers a history of the left in Britain in the post-war period, providing an illuminating analysis of the New Left, Stalinism, Fabianism, Marxism, the limitations of the Labour Party, the importance of Antonio Gramsci, and the challenges of bringing about lasting social transformation. It is essential listening for socialists in the twenty-first century.

IMG_20200506_162325The recording contains some minor, if at certain points significant, differences to the published article; the most notable being the absence of the final paragraph which I include below. Williams must have transcribed and then edited the essay before it was first published in The Concept of Socialism. This 1975 book, released by Croom Helm, also has articles by, amongst others, its editor Bhikhu Parekh (a leading theorist of multiculturalism) Victor Kiernan (of the Communist Party Historians Group), and Juliet Mitchell (author of the groundbreaking works of socialist feminism, Woman’s Estate (1971) and Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974)). Williams’s essay concludes the collection. It was later included in Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism (Verso, 1989).

As noted, the final paragraph is missing from the recording. Importantly, it registers Williams’s commitment to the traditions of Marxism and Marxist cultural theory. He writes: “People change, it is true, in struggle and by action. Anything as deep as a dominant structure of feeling is only changed by active new experience. But this does not mean that change can be remitted to action otherwise conceived. On the contrary the task of a successful socialist movement will be one of feeling and imagination quite as much as one of fact and organisation. Not imagination or feeling in their weak senses: ‘imagining the future’ (which is a waste of time) or ‘the emotional side of things’. On the contrary, we have to learn and to teach each other the connections between a political and economic formation, a cultural and educational formation, and, perhaps hardest of all, the formations of feeling and relationship which are our immediate resources in any struggle. Contemporary Marxism, extending its scope to this wider area, learning again the real meanings of totality, is then a movement to which I find myself belonging and to which I am glad to belong” (in The Concept of Socialism, ed. Parekh, pp. 241-242).

Many thanks to the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for making this project possible and to Merryn Williams for her continued support.

Amiel Melburn

Phil O’Brien is the author of The Working Class and Twenty-First-Century British Fiction (Routledge, 2020). He is secretary of the Raymond Williams Society and on the editorial board of Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism.