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Talking History

E. P. Thompson, C. L. R. James, and the Afterlives of Internationalism

Utathya Chattopadhyaya

In 1983, H. O. Nazareth directed a film called Talking History, which brought together E. P. Thompson and C. L. R. James in conversation. The soundtrack was composed by Spartacus R, former bassist for the Black Rock band, Osibisa. Over the twenty years since the publication of The Making of the English Working Class in 1963, Thompson had confronted several questions around colonialism, law, and constitutionalism that had not found emphasis in The Making. Talking History marks a unique point in the trajectory of Thompson's engagement with some of those questions, while simultaneously revealing the limits of that engagement. In addition to being a useful window into the political worldview of James and Thompson in the early 1980s, the film is also demonstrative of the afterlives of internationalism in the twentieth century. This article argues that revisiting internationalism, as a practice of political activism and critical dialogue, with its possibilities and limits, allows us to carefully rethink some of our contemporary political and intellectual practices.