Thompson William

Early Irish communist - William Thompson - audio


William Thompson was one of the of the first people to critically engage with political economy and attempt to turn it around to defend the improvement of the condition of the working class and rural poor. He was from a Anglo- Irish landowning family from West Cork and was to become a leading figure in the early Co-operative movement. In this talk from the 2007 Dublin anarchist bookfair Paul Bowman talks about the importance of Thompson and the relevance of his ideas today

Practical Directions: Explanation of Leading Terms


The extract is from the opening of Thompson's last book before his untimely death, "Practical Directions for the Speedy and Economical Establishment of Communities, on the Principles of Mutual Co-operation, United Possessions and Equality" of 1830. In the main was a practical "build your own community" manual and the bulk of it was taken up with practical matters. However the necessity of squeezing in a summary of the political and economic bases of the projected community, means that this "Explanation of Leading Terms" at the beginning of the work remains the most abbreviated version of his analysis available

Preliminary Observations (on the Distribution of Wealth)


"Preliminary Observations" is the introduction to his first, and possibly most important book, the lengthily entitled "An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth most conducive to human happiness; applied to The Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth" of 1824. It is this work of which the anarchist historian Max Nettlau remarks: "[this] book, however, discloses his own evolution; having started with a demand for the full product of labour as well as the regulation of distribution, he ended up with his own conversion to communism, that is, unlimited distribution". This preface piece shows signs of being originally written before his own conversion to communist distribution with supplemental additions after that change. In it Thompson lays out his approach of applying the critical method of utilitarianism - the re-examination of all social institutions with an atheist skepticism of all received truths, judging outcomes on the basis of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" - to the theories of Political Economy.

On the present state of the distribution of wealth


The piece is the crucial fifth chapter of the Inquiry. This is the turning point of the book where Thompson accepts that his original project of creating a liberatory economics on the basis of classical liberalism, albeit taken far further than any previous exponent had dared, had been overtaken by an acceptance of the limits of even the most perfected system of "free" exchange. This chapter starts with an admission that he has dumped the previous written version for this new departure. In passing he gives the section headings for the original text, covering the demands necessary for the achievement of his original goal of "free exchange". The crucial section of this chapter is his dissection of the faults of even the most perfected system of exchange. His seminal framework of 5 points is still capable of enriching contemporary critique of exchange, despite the datedness of some of the problems which have to some extent been mitigated in the intervening 180 or so years by the gains of workers' and women's struggles and the subsequent development of consumer capitalism and the welfare state.

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