Raymond Williams : biography
Raymond Henry Williams (31 August 1921 – 26 January 1988) was a Welsh academic, novelist and critic. He was an influential figure within the New Left and in wider culture. His writings on politics, culture, the mass media and literature are a significant contribution to the Marxist critique of culture and the arts. Some 750,000 copies of his books have sold in UK editions alonePolitics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review and there are many translations available. His work laid the foundations for the field of cultural studies and the cultural materialist approach.
Born in Llanfihangel Crucorney, near Abergavenny, Wales, Williams was the son of a railway worker in a village where all of the railwaymen voted Labour while the local small farmers mostly voted Liberal.Smith, Dai. Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale. Page 16 It was not a Welsh-speaking area: he described it as "Anglicised in the 1840s".Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review. Page 25 There was, nevertheless, a strong Welsh identity. "There is the joke that someone says his family came over with the Normans and we reply: ‘Are you liking it here?’".Ibid. Page 36
He attended King Henry VIII Grammar School in Abergavenny. His teenage years were overshadowed by the rise of Nazism and the threat of war. He was 14 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and was very conscious of what was happening through his membership of the local Left Book Club.Ibid. Page 32 He also mentions the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China, originally published in Britain by the Left Book Club.Ibid. Page 31
At this time, he was a supporter of the League of Nations, attending a League-organised youth conference in Geneva in 1937. On the way back, his group visited Paris and he went to the Soviet pavilion at the International Exhibition. There he bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto and read Karl Marx for the first time.Smith, Dai. Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale. Page 72
Williams attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. Along with Eric Hobsbawm, he was given the task of writing a Communist Party pamphlet about the Russo-Finnish War. He says in (Politics and Letters) that they "were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words."Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review. Page 43 At the time, the British government was keen to support Finland in its war against the Soviet Union, while still being at war with Nazi Germany.
World War II
Williams interrupted his education to serve in World War II. In winter 1940, he enlisted in the British Army, but stayed at Cambridge to take his exams in June 1941, the same month Germany invaded Russia. Joining the military was against the Communist party line at the time. According to Williams, his membership in the Communist Party lapsed without him ever formally resigning.Ibid. Page 52
When Williams joined the army, he was assigned to the Royal Corps of Signals, which was the typical assignment for university undergraduates. He received some initial training in military communications, but was then reassigned to artillery and anti-tank weapons. He was viewed as officer material and served as an officer in the Anti-Tank Regiment of the Guards Armoured Division, 1941–1945, being sent into the early fighting in the Invasion of Normandy after the Normandy Landings (D-Day). In Politics and Letters he writes, "I don’t think the intricate chaos of that Normandy fighting has ever been recorded".Ibid. Page 56 He commanded a unit of four tanks and mentions losing touch with two of them during fighting against Waffen-SS Panzer forces in the Bocage; he never discovered what happened to them due to a withdrawal of the troops.