The Origins of Jack Lindsay’s Contributions
to British Marxist Thought

Joel R. Brouwer

Few writers can lay claim to a volume of literary and critical production equaling that of Jack Lindsay. As a young Australian in London in the 1920s he edited the London Aphrodite, a literary magazine, and founded the Fanfrolico Press, "publishing his own translations of the classics, his first study of William Blake, and Dionysos: Nietzsche Contra Nietzsche, as well as works by many other hands, in limited editions" (Paananen 1988, 525). He was also by this time a published poet. In the 1930s he began writing fiction, and would publish over forty novels in his lifetime. His novels were steady sellers in England, but considerably more popular in the Soviet Union, where they sold over a million copies under the pen name Richard Preston.

Lindsay came to Marxism in the midthirties and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) at the end of that decade. In the early 1940s he served in the British Army, writing scripts for the army theater and overseeing both military and civilian theatrical productions. In the late 1940s he turned his attention back to editing and producing periodicals, while continuing to write novels, drama, poetry, and political and critical essays. He also continued his activity in the CPGB, advocating a close relationship with the Soviet Union and working with various writers' groups and coalitions for peace.

The 1950s through the 1980s saw the addition of biography and autobiography to Lindsay's body of literary production. He

[bottom of p. 261]

also began in earnest to do history and Marxist cultural critique. In 1978 he published his second study of William Blake, fifty years after his first, showing Blake's place in the British radical tradition (Paananen 1988, 527). In 1981, at the age of 81, he published The Crisis in Marxism, an important analysis of continental Marxist thought, especially in relation to the understanding of art as a form of cultural production. By his death in 1990, Lindsay had written, edited, or translated more than one hundred seventy volumes.

The vastness of Lindsay's literary output is certainly one daunting factor to students and scholars interested in examining his work. Its diversity is another. While Lindsay may defy classification by genre, an overview of his production shows him returning to a handful of basic concepts, whether in fiction, drama, or essay form. Though he sharpened and clarified those concepts over the years, they began forming in the work of the young, pre-Marxist romantic who wrote about Blake in the 1920s and came to clearer expression as he deepened his understanding of Marx, eventually adopting a Marxist stance.

Lindsay's Marxist writing, informed by his romantic roots, emphasizes elements in Marxism largely overlooked by British Marxists in the earlier years of Lindsay's work, but which have more recently been reclaimed in British Marxist thought. These points of emphasis, developed throughout his long and prolific career, constitute Jack Lindsay's neglected contribution to British Marxist thought, and are the subject of this essay.

Early views

Jack Lindsay's earliest views on the nature of art were strongly influenced by his father Norman, an Australian painter and novelist. Norman's ideas were both Nietzschean and neo-classical. The perspective is somewhat evident in Visions, a magazine Jack and his father produced in the early 1920s in Australia. According to Paul Gillen,

in its appeal of "Life" as a basic value, in its casting of art and music and poetry as the most exalted human activities, and in the attitudes to politics, society and history which grew out of, or alongside, these assumptions, the

[bottom of p. 262]

Vision outlook had many points of contact with other tendencies of the period. (1984, 20)

Though this aestheticism is not typically associated with Marxism, Lindsay's work of years later was to be informed by these early ideas.

Lindsay's devotion to art, music, and poetry were in part responsible for his journey to London in 1926, where he and a friend set up the Fanfrolico Press. Its purpose was to issue beautifully produced, limited editions of translations and neglected classics. In 1927 he also started a literary magazine, the London Aphrodite, through which can be traced the development of his thought. To the Nietzschean and neoclassical aesthetic of his father, Jack added ideas drawn from various sources, most notably Hegel and Blake. Laurence Coupe, commenting on Lindsay's thinking as shown in his opening Aphrodite essay, "The Modern Consciousness," says:

Hegel introduced the dialectic not as a logical device but as an explanation of man's nature and future. . . . From Hegel Lindsay gained a fundamental insight: that we may posit an initial human harmony with nature. But with man's ascendancy we find the emergence of conflict--between mind and matter, between self and other, master and slave, humanity and nature itself. It is out of this conflict that humanity gains a greater consciousness, such that a future re-union with nature will be at a higher level, involving a new order of freedom. (1984, 49)

Hegel gave Lindsay a system and Blake gave him a vision. Lindsay published his William Blake in 1927, where "Blake is viewed entirely positively" (Coupe 1984, 50). The first issue of the Aphrodite, containing the essay "The Modern Consciousness," appeared the next year. Blake's romantic vision flavors Lindsay's thinking in 1928 as much as Hegel's dialectic system does. As evidence, Coupe offers the "opening insight" of Dionysos: Nietzsche Contra Nietzsche, which Lindsay also wrote in 1928: "`The purpose of thought is not to solve the riddle of  

[bottom of p. 263]

the universe, but to create it'--is [an idea] that Lindsay could have derived from the English romantic poet just as easily as from the German thinker" (50). In fact, Lindsay's "Blakean" statement also echoes Marx's Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it" (Marx 1959, 245).

The evidence from Lindsay's own writing in the 1920s shows that his primary concerns were artistic and philosophical. Laurence Coupe explains how Lindsay put these concerns into a dialectical framework, while keeping the focus on art:

Form and energy, infinity and sensual enjoyment: the conflict is there, but the resolution is embodied chiefly in the imaginative act. For here Lindsay is concerned with art and in particular with the artistic movement we know as romanticism. (51)

Coupe summarizes Lindsay's thought from that period, recognizing as well what is lacking, when he says "Romanticism, history and the dialectic are all represented in the Aphrodite, but it is clear that Lindsay is still seeking the key to all three, which he is to find in Marx" (1984, 51).

Effects of early views on Lindsay's Marxist thought

From Blake to Marx is not as great a leap as Lindsay's British contemporaries in the 1930s may have believed. Lindsay's aestheticism, derived in large part from Blake, was only one aspect of a fuller understanding. The correspondences between a Blakean and a Marxist world view were to become clearer to Lindsay throughout the 1930s. These correspondences are strikingly described by Minna Doskow, who observes that both

Blake and Marx propose a humanistic alternative to the mechanistic world view which placed man as a single perceiving subject within a world of dead and mechanically operating objects, cut off from his world and his fellow man in this way, and seen as an object himself by his fellow man so that his relationships to his world and other men become objectified and reduced to mechanistic  

[bottom of p. 264]

operations. They propose a human definition of man and his world, for both believe that the world has no meaning isolated from man, and it is only man's work upon the world which gives it shape, substance, and meaning. (1982, 225)

Lindsay became particularly concerned with "man's work upon the world," especially in artistic endeavors. Having come to an aesthetic perspective through his thinking about art in the 1920s, Lindsay did not abandon it when he finally accepted Marxism as the vision which held the most promise for the future of humanity. ("I have never wavered in my conviction that Marxism does lay the basis for a world of unity [of equality, brotherhood, justice]" [Lindsay 1982, 761].)

The young Lindsay's conflation of romanticism and Marxism was unusual in his time, but not unique, as noted by Raymond Williams:

In many Englishmen writing as Marxists I have noticed this. A tradition basically proceeding from the Romantics . . . has been supplemented by certain phrases from Marx, while continuing to operate in the older terms. Much of the `Marxist' writing of the 'thirties was in fact the old Romantic protest that there was no place in contemporary society for the artist and the intellectual, with the new subsidiary clause that the workers were about to end the old system and establish Socialism, which would then provide such a place. (1983, 271)

Williams's comment may describe Lindsay, Christopher Caudwell, and a handful of others. By contrast, however, there was also a robust strain of Marxist thought which dismissed or condemned concepts important to Lindsay. He was particularly concerned that other Marxist thinkers had paid insufficient or misguided attention to aesthetics, as evidenced by this line from a 1944 essay he wrote for the journal Dialectics: "But still the gibe that [the] Marxist has merely missed the aesthetic fact has its sting" (quoted in Lindsay 1981, 121). Consequently, Lindsay devoted much of his energy to the task of reclaiming the aesthetic perspective within Marxist thought, thereby working to  

[bottom of p. 265]

reclaim for Marxism something of itself which his contemporaries failed to recognize properly. Lindsay's earlier concerns are echoed in the 1970s by Paul Breines:

Marxism had vital roots in what is often called the Romantic revolt against modernity. But in the course of its development, anxious to keep abreast of the capitalist times and its scientific spirit, Marxism forsook those roots. (1977, 473-74)

Recognizing these types of pressures, Lindsay made it a lifelong project to work for balance in the Marxist perspective, primarily by articulating his aesthetic theory.

Culture as productive activity

Probably Lindsay's foremost contribution to the legitimizing of artistic endeavor within a Marxist framework is his work on the idea that culture is productive activity, with the production of cultural artifacts existing in dialectical relationship with other productive phases of life. He first set out these views in a discussion paper presented to "an evening conference in 1945 organised by the cultural committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain" (1981, 122).

Lindsay reports that his discussion paper first referred to "a number of texts from Marx and Engels, and the tendency of many Marxists to see culture as a mere `reflection of economic mechanism and the sum total of social relations'" (1981, 122). A logical consequence of such a perspective would be that "Marxist art" would be crudely crafted for narrowly propagandistic purposes.

In opposition to this marginalizing of cultural activity, Lindsay went on in his paper to demonstrate the dialectical relationship between cultural activity, itself productive, and the productive activity of everyday life. His thesis, one of his key contributions to Marxist thought, is that cultural activity grows out of the energy produced in productive activity, such as hunting, and in turn produces energy which is channelled back into further productive activity. Using the cultural activity of prehistoric people as the prototypical example of this dialectical  

[bottom of p. 266]

relationship, he explains in the 1945 document that

culture emerges in the group when the productive activity, with its cooperative basis, develops a certain quantity of superabundant social energy. Then the new unity, the new quality, which we know as culture, appears. . . . [The early peoples'] superabundant social energy, based on productive cooperative activity, is transformed into the form of ritual, that is dance and song and painting. This is no mere reflection of labour-process, but a transformation of productive activity. It is productive activity on a new level, where it becomes a satisfaction in itself. And yet by the dialectical law the new activity, culture, is continually transformed back into economic activity. For the organisation of personal and social energy on the new level increases enormously human powers: the individual achieves enormously enhanced powers of energisation, powers that he could never possibly have achieved if all his outlets of energy can be conceived as having remained on the economic level pure and simple. These new energies return back into everyday life, giving increased consciousness for his daily task, his economic task. (1981, 123)

Certainly Lindsay was not the only, or even the first, British Marxist to contest the narrow, propagandistic view of art. Christopher Caudwell, in Studies in a Dying Culture, noted the interplay of artistic production and individual development when he wrote:

The value of art to society is that by it an emotional adaptation is possible. Man's instincts are pressed in art against the altered mode of reality, and by a specific organisation of the emotions thus generated, there is a new attitude, an adaptation. (1971, 53-54)

Lindsay's observations in the discussion paper echo Caudwell's argument that art acts as a formative agent in its influence on the development of individuals, but Lindsay goes beyond Caudwell by demonstrating that the influence of art on  

[bottom of p. 267]

the development of individuals is the first step in a dialectical relationship between art and productive activity that is transformative of society. Art and artistic activity are not only essential elements of human experience, but also of social progress.

Even though his theoretical basis comes from conjecture about primitive society, Lindsay sees a dialectical connection between art and production in modern life as well. In After the 'Thirties: The Novel in Britain, and its Future, Lindsay makes this connection:

Yet art in a class-society still needs to be renewed by forms and impulses from the levels of common life, the levels of the producers, the craftsmen and the land-workers. And here we see how, despite all the divisions and abstractions, there is a continuing link between artistic activity and the sphere of production--not only the labour-process, but the whole life and activity of the working-people. Indeed, the fundamental structures and imageries of art, at all past phases of class-society, have been inherited from tribal days and maintained alive at the folk-levels of culture. (1956, 152)

In a later chapter from After the 'Thirties entitled "The Origin of Art," Lindsay offers this definition of art, showing how he sees art as an essential part of human experience: "Art consists of forms or images generated out of the productive sphere, which men develop in rhythmical fantasy and which deepen their grasp on reality" (145). By this definition, art is not only "a transformation of productive activity," but it transforms further productive activity by "deepening our grasp on reality."

Clearly, Lindsay here creates a theoretical basis for a conviction that he held even before he became a Marxist. Here is the devotion to "art, music and poetry" that Paul Gillen saw in Lindsay's Vision magazine work, seen now from a Marxist perspective through the Hegelian concept of dialectical processes of change. Here Lindsay's thinking is aligned with Christopher Caudwell's brilliant but uneven attempts to save a place for art within the Marxist framework. In his efforts to explain more systematically and completely than Caudwell the "link between

[bottom of p. 268] 

artistic activity and the sphere of production" (1956, 132), Lindsay anticipates Raymond Williams's insight that "culture [is] constitutive social process" (1983, 19).

Lindsay's articulation of these ideas put him at odds with many British Marxist thinkers of the 1940s. The discussion document presented in 1945 at the Communist Party evening conference met with little favor. Commenting on the paper's reception, Lindsay writes, "I may mention that with one exception everyone present at the conference condemned my views. The exception was Edward Thompson" (1981, 126).

Base and superstructure

As Raymond Williams has so aptly noted, the terms "structure" (or "base") and "superstructure" are richly evocative when viewed as metaphor or analogy. When applied in a rigidly literal manner, though, the concept of a determining base and a determined superstructure does little to account for the subtleties of artistic production or culture (1983, 282). Yet a rigid, literal interpretation of the categories was in evidence amongst prominent Marxists in the 1940s, as Joseph Stalin's definition of the terms demonstrates:

The base is the economic structure of society at a given stage of its development. The superstructure consists of the political, legal, religious, artistic, and philosophical views of society and the political, legal, and other institutions corresponding to them. . . . If the base changes or is eliminated, then following this its superstructure changes or is eliminated; if a new base arises, then following this a superstructure arises corresponding to it. (1951, 9)

Lindsay took exception to the view that culture, as part of the superstructure, was something superficial or extraneous. In doing so, he added his voice to a controversy that was particularly pronounced in the 1940s and 1950s in Great Britain. The controversy is clearly seen in Maurice Cornforth's "corrective" attack on the ideas of Christopher Caudwell, whose "worst mistakes are hailed as original contributions to Marxism. That is why it is absolutely necessary to expose those mistakes" (1950/1951, 33-34). Cornforth's attack gave rise to a series of  

[bottom of p. 269]

responses that The Modern Quarterly labeled "The Caudwell Discussion," but which E. P. Thompson would refer to in later years as "The Caudwell Controversy." Thompson notes that "the argument was initiated . . . on the grounds of whether Caudwell was or was not a proper and orthodox Marxist, according to an orthodoxy increasingly petrified by Stalinist doctrine" (1977, 233). This emphasis on orthodoxy was the same pressure that effectively suppressed Lindsay's discussion paper.

The orthodox Stalinist reading of the metaphor of "base and superstructure" seemed to Lindsay excessively rigid in its relegation of cultural activity to the realm of the superstructure, and as such entirely under the influence of the economic structures of the base. Lindsay's explanation, in his discussion document, of the relationship of base and superstructure prefigures Raymond Williams's explanation of the concept (1983, 75-82) by noting the dialectically inseparable nature of economic and cultural forms of production, with base and superstructure exerting influence upon each other:

It is clear then that as soon as social energy reaches the dialectical point where it is transformed into the new quality, Culture, it has done something that cannot be undone. Something that is essential to all further social and personal development. Culture or the superstructure is not something just added as a kind of extra, a luxury to the substructure, the direct productive levels. It is something on which the substructure entirely depends, just as it depends in turn on the substructure: the two make up a dialectical unity. And man can no more get on with his productive task without an ideology, without a release and satisfaction on cultural levels, than he can develop airy structures of the mind without the sustaining productive levels. For humanity, culture is just as essential as production. Every advance in production is in dialectical unity with an advance in culture. (1981, 124)

Lindsay might have expected that Marxist listeners in 1945 would not take kindly to this seeming confusion of the neat  

[bottom of p. 270]

categories of "base" and "superstructure." Interestingly, although these ideas are also implied in After the 'Thirties (1956), Lindsay did not further develop them until he resurrected the discussion document for inclusion in The Crisis in Marxism in 1981.

Romantic echoes in Lindsay's Marxism

Commenting on the work of Alick West and Christopher Caudwell, Raymond Williams observes that

as we look at the English attempt at a Marxist theory of culture, what we see is an interaction between Romanticism and Marx, between the idea of culture which is the major English tradition and Marx's brilliant revaluation of it. (1983, 279-80)

Although Williams does not mention Lindsay in his critique, he might well have.

Hegel's influence on Lindsay is evident in The Crisis in Marxism, but so is that of Blake and other romantics. This is particularly well noted by Robert Mackie and Neil Morpeth, who write:

Romanticism simultaneously looks to the past and the future, hearkening both to the loss of a previous organic unity and announcing, sometimes in millenarian terms, the forthcoming commonweal of humanity. It is possible to see these conflicting directions not only in Blake and William Morris, but in Lindsay himself. Moreover, it is where romanticism is critical of worldly aspirations, material possessions--the "cash-nexus"--that we find the connection between the Dionysian Lindsay and the Marxist. (1984, 93)

In Lindsay's view, the dialectical progress of history is taking us somewhere: "Obviously communism cannot be reached at a stride, but it must always be kept in mind or as a goal. . . . The solutions in all matters can be found only by people working together, aware of the claims and needs of the individuals composing the group, and striving always towards the ideal of a world without compulsions" (1981, 155).  

[bottom of p. 271]

In anticipating "a world without compulsions," Lindsay certainly sounds like a romantic, or a dreamer. But the Romantic influence was not limited to his vision of the future. It also played a large part in his thinking about art. Lawrence Coupe asserts that "Romanticism--Blake's and Coleridge's in particular--is central to any understanding of [Lindsay's] career" (1984, 46).

In the 1920s, the pre-Marxist Lindsay had incorporated the mystical thought of William Blake into his aesthetic vision. As he moved toward Marx in the 1930s, Lindsay retained elements of the Blakean perspective, placing the mystical vision into a context that for a time sounded like existential philosophy. But, as the following quotation from his 1976 essay "Towards a Marxist Aesthetic" demonstrates, both Blakean mysticism and existentialism were way-stations on the road to Lindsay's ultimate aesthetic perspective. Though he uses dates loosely in the essay, which is an account of his intellectual journey, this section seems to be describing the state of his thought in the early 1930s, showing the influence of Hegel and just prior to his discovery of Marx:

I concentrated on the idea of the existential experience. Not as a sort of spontaneous absolute as with Proust (whom I had not yet read) or with Joyce and his epiphanies, but as the crisis-moment which, dialectically realized in its fullness, implicated everything else in the universe. Of course the writer could not follow out the infinite implications; but by the depth of his penetration into the moment he created an image which in this way reflected the totality. What Blake meant when he said that One thought filled Immensity. At every given moment the individual and his world were in a state of transition, making the passage between the death of the old and the birth of the new; and so, to define any moment as a whole was to penetrate into the structure of change in all moments. The moment which was defined was unique, never having happened before and never going to happen again, and yet it held the dialectical secret of every other moment. Somehow the work of art expressed the purely  

[bottom of p. 272]

transitory, the unique moment, and yet made this moment reflect the essential nature of all other moments. (1976b, 426-27)

The ripeness of certain historical moments

The emphasis on the uniqueness of the moment Lindsay places into a dialectical, historical process. Not surprisingly, his historical novels offer some of the best examples of his exploration of this idea. In them, he illustrated the theory that he was later to articulate in the abstract: that history is replete with instances of critical moments, moments of ripeness, when change happens because people, events, and ideas converge to incite the change. These moments of ripeness, often revolutionary, are history's growth-spurts in the direction of Lindsay's ideal communal society.

Lindsay's fascination with the notion of "ripe" historical moments is reflected in the temporal and physical settings of his novels. The "Prelude to Christianity" trilogy (Rome for Sale, Caesar is Dead, Last Days With Cleopatra) along with Brief Light, a fictionalized biography of Catullus, chronicle the lives of key politicians and noblemen at a time of great ferment in Rome. The Barriers are Down is a novel set at the collapse of the Roman Empire, circa 450. His 1649: A Novel of A Year and Men of '48 tell stories set in tumultuous times in English history.

His contemporary novels were advertised as having the same theme. A book jacket on the postwar series of novels "Of the British Way" states that the series deals "with fundamental conflicts at moments of crisis and explains the way in which such conflicts appear in individuals who are at most only partly aware of the pattern of events in which they are caught up" (quoted in Croft 1984, 35).

This interplay between individuals and historical moments is also noted by Paul Gillen. Commenting on the pre-Marxist Roman novels, Gillen says, "Historical figures, ideas and movements tended to be interpreted in relation to the stage of development from which they emerge. The time is ripe for some, but not for others" (1984, 26).

At least one critic sees this insight as Lindsay's crowning achievement. According to Andy Croft,  

[bottom of p. 273]

it was this struggle to imaginatively enter into the past, to represent it realistically, to realise "fundamental social conflicts in moments of crisis" as they affect the lives of ordinary people and their families, that has been Lindsay's most important contribution to the development of British Marxism. Knowing nothing of the writings of Antonio Gramsci (at this time rotting in a fascist prison), Lindsay developed in the middle and the late 'thirties the beginnings of a creative and challenging Marxist theory of culture. (1984, 35)

Marxists like Maurice Cornforth were unprepared to deal with Lindsay's theories of culture. The evolution of Marxist thought since the 1950s has prepared the way for a reevaluation of Lindsay's writings.

The individual and art

Though the individuals in Lindsay's novels may be "only partly aware of the pattern of events in which they are caught up," it is important to notice that they are individuals--"ordinary people and their families," in Croft's words. Both the novels from Lindsay's pre-Marxist days and the ones that postdate his entry into the Communist Party in 1941 show a concern with the individual that is not necessarily characteristic of all Marxist literature. This concern in fiction is also a concern of Lindsay's in aesthetic theory, and serves in this essay as a final example of Lindsay's pre-Marxist thought affecting his Marxist thought. Lindsay's perspective on the artist, as individual, resonates strongly with notions traceable to his pre-Marxist days.

The place to turn to discover Lindsay's perspective is to his 1974 essay "The Role of the Individual in Art," printed in Decay and Renewal. The first point to note is that the individual artist is shaped by his environment and his time:

The originality of individuality of the artist emerges indeed out of the total situation, his total response to it--a response which will be aesthetic and personal, but which will include, directly or in various degrees of refraction, elements from all the most significant aspects of the  

[bottom of p. 274]

situation, the entangled movement, of which he is willynilly a part. (1976a, 373)

This statement is not surprising, considering the themes of Lindsay's novels. It also forms the basis on which Lindsay rejects the "mystical notion of individuality, of the individual's role, as existing on a realm of pure freedom" (1976a, 374). For Lindsay there is no such thing as pure freedom, and he calls such claims on the part of modern artists "bourgeois egotism" (375).

On the other hand, Lindsay also rejects the notion of the artist's "complete determination by external and random events" (377). He sees examples of this deterministic attitude in, among others, Marshal McLuhan with his notion that the medium is the message.

To steer a course between these two extremes, Lindsay borrows a concept from Walter Benjamin, "that of the Jetztzeit, the Presence of the Now, `a nunc stans, in which time stands still, where past and future converge not harmoniously, but explosively, in the present moment'" (1976a, 385). The artists who stand at the moment of Jetztzeit are not

tamely and imitatively seeking to build on existent bases or methods, [but] letting both past and future rush in to give those bases or methods a quite new dynamic. The inrush of the past means that we employ the criteria of the great classic achievements with their sense of totality; but we cannot apply them externally or mechanically. For what is happening is a violent clash between the criteria and the realization of the existential moment, with all its deep and pervasive self-alienations. And this clash in turn brings the impact of the future, the struggle against all the processes of alienation and the direction in which that struggle is moving. There is both continuity and rupture with the past; and the momentum imparted to the situation ensures that the closed walls or limits of the lived-moment as it is defined by the modernist are swept away. We are facing and moving in a new direction, with a new sense of union and participation, which involves the future, though without any utopian positivism. (1976a, 386)

One element of this statement is a critique of any dogma,  

[bottom of p. 275]

bourgeois or Marxist, which insists that the artist apply the "bases and attitudes" of the dogma "externally or mechanically." As such, the statement is a defense of individual autonomy, and the necessity for the artist to create "rupture with the past." But notice also the rejection of modernism, with its "closed walls or limits of the lived-moment." When modernists ignore history by claiming that only the existential moment is significant, they also forfeit the only opportunity to move forward, through the "violent clash between the criteria [of the past] and the realization of the existential moment."

It is no accident that this whole line of reasoning is replete with echoes of the pre-Marxist Lindsay, especially the sense of "moments of ripeness" and the Hegelian sense of dialectical progress into the future.

It is also evident that Lindsay stresses the impact of the historical moment upon the individual. He continues:

The concrete here-and-now poses the question of freedom and unfreedom as it rises up at that particular moment, that particular place, that particular nodal point of history. Not freedom in a limited political objective [which Lindsay identifies as one Marxist fallacy], not freedom as a utopian goal in the future [another Marxist fallacy]-- though the limited objective and the limitless dream may well be present in varying degrees. Rather it is a question of the extent to which the individual realizes his place in the living and moving whole of the moment, and to which he is able thereby to achieve an integrated wholeness in himself and in his relations to the outer totality. This realized wholeness of the self is freedom, here and now; it is born out of struggle, it is not a harmony in any static sense; rather it is the moment of precarious balance which has unbalance before it and after it, and which somehow includes these two unbalances inside itself, as the present including both past and future in its dynamic transition. (1976a, 386-87)

This formulation creates a basis for rejecting the self-absorption of Proust, the "movement toward a faceless blur of sensations,  

[bottom of p. 276]

thoughts, emotions" (399) of Joyce, and the ahistoricalness of Woolf--all false notions of individualism. Instead of those false notions, Lindsay offers this as a not-quite final, but nevertheless definitive observation on the idea of the creative individual:

There are thus two lines along which the question of the individual role can be approached. We can see the individual as driven ever more back on himself, losing his sense of the dynamic social whole to which he belongs, or we can see the individual as struggling to grasp more fully and vitally the social whole and to take it into himself, not in order that his personality may be obliterated by the tumult and complexity of the scene or by the imposition of generalized ideas and sloganized directives, but in order that he may reveal the social essence inside each individual existence without impairing the sharp particularity. (1976a, 405)

It is obvious which line Lindsay wants us to follow. It is an argument born of conviction, an appealing antidote to the dead-end thinking of modernism. Lindsay earnestly tries to explain the paradox of maintaining individual vision while recognizing and accepting one's place in history, and in doing so, shows himself to be a persuasive advocate of a Marxist perspective on the question.


Though Lindsay never wavered in his espousal of Marxism once he accepted its vision in the late 1930s, he brought a fresh, vital perspective to its interpretation. Critics may differ about what his major contributions to Marxist thought were, but should recognize the fact that he made many. Some of those contributions have not been examined in this essay, two major ones being first his career-long exploration of the concept of alienation, and second his prefiguring of Raymond Williams's dialectical construct for explaining history: the concepts of the dominant, the residual, and the emergent. The scope of this essay is not broad enough to consider these two contributions from Jack Lindsay, though their importance is undeniable.  

[bottom of p. 277]

Lindsay's contributions are enriching and provocative. Consistent with his own theory, Jack Lindsay would have to say that in one sense they were his contributions, in another sense not. For his theories--on the nature of the dialectical linkage between base and superstructure, that culture is a productive activity, that there are periods of revolutionary ripeness in history, and that the existential moments of ripeness in the individual's experience are dialectically linked with both past and future--all found their genesis, to a greater or lesser extent, in the formative ideas of Lindsay's pre-Marxist years. Ironically, Jack Lindsay's contributions point the way toward liberating succeeding Marxists from the trap of labeling such synthesis as "impure." By using the Marxist vision to provide a framework for his previous thought, he enriched Marxist thought as well.

Department of English
Michigan State University  


Breines, Paul. 1977. Marxism, romanticism, and the case of Georg Lukacs: Notes on some recent sources and situations. Studies in Romanticism 16 (fall): 473-89.

Caudwell, Christopher [Christopher St. John Sprigg]. 1971. Studies and further studies in a dying culture. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Cornforth, Maurice. 1950/1951. Caudwell and Marxism. Modern Quarterly 6:16-33.

Coupe, Lawrence. 1984. Jack Lindsay: From the Aphrodite to Arena. In Mackie 1984, 46-60.

Croft, Andy. 1984. "Extremely crude propaganda?" The historical novels of Jack Lindsay. In Mackie 1984, 32-45.

Doskow, Minna. 1982. The humanized universe of Blake and Marx. In William Blake and the moderns, edited by Robert J. Bertholf and Annette S. Levitt, 225-40. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

Gillen, Paul. 1984. Man the image maker in Jack Lindsay's Roman trilogy. In Mackie 1984, 16-31.

Lindsay, Jack. 1956. After the 'thirties: The novel in Britain, and its future. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

------. 1976a. The Role of the individual in art. In Decay and renewal: Critical essays on twentieth century writing, by Jack Lindsay, 370-421. Sydney: Wild and Woolley.

[bottom of p. 278]

------. 1976b. Toward a Marxist aesthetic. In Decay and renewal: Critical essays on twentieth century writing, by Jack Lindsay, 422-46. Sydney: Wild and Woolley.

------. 1981. The crisis in Marxism. Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England: Moonraker Press; Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes & Noble.

------. 1982. Life rarely tells. New York: Penguin Books.

Mackie, Robert, and Neil Morpeth. 1984. From Nietzsche to Marx: The passage and formation of Jack Lindsay. In Mackie 1984, 81-95.

Mackie, Robert, ed. 1984. Jack Lindsay: The thirties and forties. Occasional Seminar Paper Number 4. London: University of London Institute of Commonwealth Studies-Australian Studies Centre, November.

Marx, Karl. 1959. Theses on Feuerbach. In Basic writings on politics and philosophy: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, edited by Lewis S. Feuer, 243-45. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959.

Paananen, Victor N. 1988. S. v., Lindsay, Jack. In Biographical dictionary of modern British radicals, Volume 3: 1870-1914, L-Z, edited by Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Gossman, 524-27. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Stalin, Joseph. 1951. Marxism and linguistics. New York: International Publishers.

Thompson, E. P. 1977. S. v., Caudwell, Christopher. In The socialist register 1977, edited by Ralph Miliband and John Saville, 228-76. London: Merlin Press.

Williams, Raymond. 1983. Culture and society, 1780-1950. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

------. 1977 Marxism and literature. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

[bottom of p. 279]

SOURCE: Brouwer, Joel R.“The Origins of Jack Lindsay’s Contributions to British Marxist Thought,” Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 7, no. 3 (1994), pp. 261-279.

Reprinted here by special permission of Marxist Educational Press. ©1994, 1995, 2001. All rights reserved.

A Checklist of Jack Lindsay's Books
Includes all of the following Lindsay links & more

"A Note on My Dialectic" by Jack Lindsay

"Towards a Marxist Aesthetic" by Jack Lindsay

Adorno and the Frankfurt School by Jack Lindsay

Collected Poems [Section Headnotes] by Jack Lindsay

"Spinoza" by Jack Lindsay

"Giordano Bruno" by Jack Lindsay

Jack Lindsay and British Poetry in the 1930s, by Adrian Caesar

A Garland for Jack Lindsay

Christopher Caudwell: Selected Bibliography

British Marxism in Philosophy, Science, and Culture Before the New Left:
Essential Historical Surveys

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Offsite Links:

Jack Lindsay - Wikipedia

Papers of Jack Lindsay (1900-1990) (MS 7168, National Library of Australia)

The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt by Jack Lindsay
Poem To Marie Delcourt-Curvers [HMTL]
To Marie Delcourt-Curvers [pdf file]
The First and Concluding Chapters

Marxist Educational Press / Nature, Society, and Thought

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 8 April 2001

Site ©1999-2019 Ralph Dumain