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Thompson, Edward Palmer (E. P.) (1924–1993)

Bryan D. Palmer


Edward Palmer (E. P.) Thompson was a historian, dissident communist, and peace activist. One of the English-speaking world's finest social historians and a lifelong campaigner for human rights and critic of powerful elites, he fits easily in few preconceived understandings of radicalism. Reared in a household steeped in the proselytizing zeal of Methodist missionaries, Thompson himself was a dissident atheist. With an American mother and an English father, his origins were unmistakably internationalist, yet he would often mistakenly be associated with a narrow parochialism. Overshadowed in youth by his brother Frank, who had precocious talents as a poet and an early mastery of languages, Edward grew up feeling very much the intellectual inferior. The two brothers nevertheless grew especially close in the mid– to late 1930s, both gravitating to the radicalism of the period, drawn to the causes of the Spanish Civil War and anti-fascism. They joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1939 and 1942, and both fought in World War II – Edward as a tank troop commander in Italy and Frank in a variety of roles. Frank was parachuted behind enemy lines, and it is possible that elements of the British military with few sympathies for the radical and revolutionary impulse of popular resistance to fascism abandoned him. The Nazis captured and executed Frank. His last act was a clenched-fist ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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