The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party

2. The bourgeois radicals


Engels wrote to Bebel in January 1884 commenting that, ‘since 1870, American and German competition have been putting an end to British monopoly on the world market’. He continued: ‘Now we seem, both here and in America, to be standing on the verge of a new crisis which in England has not been preceded by a period of prosperity.’

This was the secret of the sudden emergence of a socialist movement in Britain, he told Bebel.


So far the organised workers — trade unions — remain quite remote from it, the movement is proceeding among ‘educated’ elements sprung from the bourgeoisie, who here and there come into contact with the masses and in places find it. These people are of varying moral and intellectual value, and it will take some time until they sort themselves out and the sling becomes clarified. But that it will all go to sleep again is hardly likely.


Engels was referring to the Democratic Federation — which became the Social Democratic Federation in 1884— and the individuals who formed the Fabian Society in that year. It will be noted that his opinion was qualified and his caution about this ‘socialist movement’ is in contrast to the great enthusiasm with which he greeted the workers movement at the end of the decade. Both these developments came out of the decline of capitalism. However, while the ‘New Unionism’ came out of the working class, the Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society came out of bourgeois radicalism.

What were the historical conditions which gave strength to this’ bourgeois radicalism?
At the end of 1688 King James II fled the country after attempting to return to the divine right of kings and the old regime of Charles I.

The ruling landed families of England brought in William of Orange to occupy the throne. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ showed capitalist relations firmly established in the foundations of economic life. But the manufacturing capitalists, set to inherit the fruits of the destruction of feudalism, did not inherit political domination. Even as industrial expansion surged forward, the big landowning families continued to run the government.

In his 1892 special introduction to the English edition of Socialism:
Utopian and Scientific
, Engels wrote:


The political spoils of ‘pelf and place’ were left to the great landowning families, provided the economic interests of the financial, manufacturing and commercial middle class were sufficiently attended to. And these economic interests were at that time powerful enough to determine the general policy of the nation. There might be squabbles about matters of detail, but, on the whole, the aristocratic oligarchy knew too well that its own economic prosperity was irretrievably bound up with that of the industrial and commercial middle class.


Since the suppression of the Levellers, compromise among the exploiting classes — even the acceptance of the Stuart restoration — was cemented by a common fear of the lower orders. But in its ‘squabbles’ with the aristocratic oligarchy, the growing bourgeoisie was not above, at times, using the ‘mob’ although it was a use within limits, with the bourgeoisie casting a nervous eye over its shoulder.

There developed among the artisans and small producers a radical and dissenting tradition. There were a number of struggles for political and democratic rights, some of them very important and involving wide masses of people. Even after 1832, when the bourgeoisie won electoral reform, there was still the widespread corruption and bribery surrounding Parliamentary affairs and the existence of widely unequal electoral districts. There were still divisions between landlord and capitalist over the Corn Laws. The radical movement for much of the nineteenth century, was quite large, particularly in London and Birmingham, a town of small manufacturers. This was the basis of that wing of the Chartist movement that supported ‘moral force’, while the majority wing of the movement, the ‘physical forcists’, were supported by the mass of the working class. After 1850, there was need for a radical wing of the Liberal Party to help hold the working class to the bourgeoisie.

As Britain lost her monopoly, the political changes brought about a crisis of bourgeois radicalism. In the last quarter of a century the centralisation and concentration of capital broke up the soil of bourgeois radicalism. The development of working class parties on the Continent made all the more plain to the bourgeoisie the danger of spreading radical demands among the masses. (1)

There was no longer the same division as in the past between British capitalist and landowning aristocrat. The most powerful sections of the ruling class were uniting around the Tory Party. Big manufacturers were leaving the Liberal Party and Joseph Chamberlain and the Liberal Imperialists eventually split off.



Radical philosophy based on individual rights and freedom experienced a certain flowering during British capitalism’s ‘Golden Age’. Free trade meant a pacific foreign policy when capitalist interests could be ensured in the world by Britain’s economic dominance. There were reforms at home based on super-profits abroad. The development of imperialism broke up the old foreign policy. No British government could carry on a pacific foreign policy as British monopoly ended. The last burst of life of the old foreign policy in the Liberal Party was in opposition to the Boer War. After that, bourgeois pacifism (which teaches that wars are the result of mistakes of foreign policy and not of capitalist relations) found its home in the Labour Party.
The depression of the 1880s brought out sharply the fundamental and irreversible changes in British capitalism. Radicalism in the Liberal Party began to lose its means of holding the working class.
The suffering of the workers could less easily be ascribed to the lack of electoral rights.


A Further extension of the Franchise, Free Trade, and Popular Education were still the only social and economic panaceas that the Liberal Party had to offer. But the cheapness of commodities was of no use to the workman who was thrown out of employment; and the spread of education served but to increase his discontent with the existing social conditions and his ability to understand the theoretic explanations and practical proposals of the new school of reformers. (2)


However, the ‘new school of reformers’ were only giving the old bourgeois radicals a socialist tinge. Over the course of the century it had become more a radicalism of empty words. In face of a class movement of workers it was radical phraseology — demagogy. It conjured up one side of the past struggle for rights, to pose all-class movements as against independent action of the working class.(3) It came to the working class in the person of upper and middle class patronisers of workers, some of them dogmatic ‘Marxists’.

The Fabians, and Hyndman and his friends — who formed the Democratic Federation which became the Social Democratic Federation — brought into the Labour movement a faith in Anglo-Saxon ‘civilisation’. Hyndman was a chauvinist who, as Eleanor Marx said, tried to set English workers against ‘foreigners’. The Fabians openly agreed with the Liberal imperialists. One historian writes:


For the past fifteen years [before 1900 — W.H.] the Fabian group had preached a Socialism from which the romantic dreams of a revolutionary
Utopia were rigorously excluded. Its two leaders, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, were in close relations with a group of Liberal Imperialists Early in 1900 the faithful ally of the Webbs, the dramatist, Bernard Shaw, heralded their imperialist propaganda by a speech in which he declared war on the doctrine that small nations had the right to determine their own government. His Socialism repudiated such national individualism. . . ‘The world is to the big and powerful states by necessity: and the little ones must come within their borders or be crushed out of existence.


In the decade before the First World War Hyndman and Co. launched a campaign for a bigger British navy to prepare for the conflict with German capitalism. The majority of the SDF did not support them and during the war he and his group split off to form the National Socialist Party in 1916.
These ‘educated elements from the bourgeoisie’ had a deep contempt for the working class. As for Hyndman, he agreed with an opinion expressed to him by Clemenceau, the French bourgeois statesman — that the English working class ‘were incapable of any high ideals for their own class’. He denounced workers as ‘idiots’.(5) The middle and upper class founders of the Social Democratic Federation grafted Marxism on to a fundamental radicalism.(6)
The Fabian Society for their part were also contemptuous of the working class and developed an organisation openly hostile to Marxism. They consciously restricted their society to a middle class membership. They sought to help forward the inevitable, gradual evolution of society by permeating its institutions with ‘socialist’ ideas. They were opposed to the ‘inefficiencies’ of capitalism.

They repudiated the labour theory of value and based themselves on the marginal utility theory of the non-classical bourgeois economists whom Marx flayed in Capital. Thus they were naturally opposed to class struggle and were, until the formation of the Labour Party (when they decided to ‘permeate’ it) opposed to the formation of an independent party of the working class. They played no part in fighting for it.(7)

Hyndman and the leaders of the SDF were dogmatic propagandists. They dismissed and denounced the trade unions. It was despite them that members of the SDF intervened in the upsurge of the working class at the end of the eighties. The dock strike of 1889 was boycotted by the SDF, and SDF members on the strike committee — Tom Mann, Thorne and Burns — were attacked by Hyndman because the Red Flag was not carried in front of demonstrations. Interviewed by the Daily Chronicle (July 1, 1893) Engels said:


The English Social Democratic Federation is, and acts, only like a small sect. It is an exclusive body. It has not understood how to take the lead of the working class generally, and to direct it towards socialism. It has turned into an orthodoxy. Thus it insisted upon John Burns unfurling the red flag at the dock strike, and, instead of gaining over the dockers, would have driven them back into the arms of the capitalists. We don’t do this. Yet our programme is a purely socialist one. Our first plank is the socialisation of all the means and instruments of production.


Sectarianism and opportunism are closely interconnected: they are two sides of the same coin. The sectarian Hyndman, in the election of 1885 had opportunistically accepted money from the Tories to put up SDF candidates. And, at the end of the decade, while denouncing work in the unions he united with the conservative leaders of the ‘old’ unions and with reformists to oppose the emergence of a mass independent movement of the working class under Marxist leadership.
The development of the British working class was closely linked to that of the International. Revisionists have made an absolute of the ‘insularity of the British working class’. However, not only have revolutionary events in the rest of the world directly affected British developments but every time great class movements took place in Britain in the last century the working class sought links internationally.

The First International was a real factor in the life of British workers’ organisations and the natural movement of the new upsurge in the 1880s was toward international links. It actually showed itself first in the ‘old’ unions. Despite the resistance of the Parliamentary Committee (the precursor of the General Council) the Trades Union Congress sent delegates to international Congresses in 1883 and 1886. The Congress of 1866 instructed the Parliamentary Committee to summon an international congress in London for the following year. The Parliamentary Committee sabotaged this, but in 1887 they were instructed to proceed with a Congress and could only attempt to place on restrictions intended to exclude delegates from the German Social Democratic Party.




The International Congress was finally held in London in 1888. The Webbs report — in History of Trade Unionism — that ‘Notwithstanding every precaution, a majority of representatives proved to be of socialist views.’

The activities of Hyndman and the SDF were nothing less than a historic crime. One can conclude that the actions of bourgeois radicals prevented the development of a mass party in Britain under Marxist leadership, but the most perfidious role among the bourgeois radicals was conducted by people using the language of Marxism. Engels was seeking to bring British workers into the International and, in particular, into an alliance with the mass parties of French and German workers. This would have greatly assisted the development of the British working class. It was this that Hyndman fought, and fought viciously.

He conducted a campaign to disrupt and sabotage these connections. First, he sought to undermine the influence of Engels and the group around him. Justice which was Hyndman’s personal property, continually referred to Engels as the ‘Great Lama of Regents Park Rd’ and to his group as a ‘family clique’. Engels was denounced as a man, whose personal influence has been more baneful than his literary work has been useful to the Socialist movement. He has been head of the Marxist clique — far more Marxist than Marx himself — which has never ceased to intrigue and work against and vilify any Social Democratic organisation not under its direct control.’ (Justice February 1891)(9)

Preparations for the International Congress of 1891, when Will Thorne and Eleanor Marx-Aveling were elected unanimously by the Gasworkers’ Conference as delegates, were attacked as the manoeuvres of the ‘Marxist clique’.

In 1889, the SDF intrigued with the ‘old’ British trade union leaders and reformists (Possiblists)(10) in France to refuse to attend the Congress called by Marxist leaders of the French Workers Party. It was this Congress that set up the Second International. Instead, they attended the opportunist, anarchist and possiblist congress.
The cynical way in which such bourgeois adventurers treat their political crimes is shown by Hyndman in his reminiscences. He writes:


I thought it all excruciatingly funny; but it did not become me to say so or look so. Wherefore, being myself a part of the grandiose make-believe, I composed my countenance and adjusted my beard to the gravity of the occasion. But we of the Social-Democratic Federation, who alone then represented Socialism in Great Britain (sic), were in the company of the Possiblists in the Rue Lancry and the the Geusdists in the Rue Rochecouart. This was regarded by our Guesdist friends as downright abnegation of the true faith as it is in Marx; for it is well known that we held by that economic saviour of society, and our place should have been with the fanatical propagandists of the pure doctrine. Faction feeling ran very high.


The SDF continued its alliance with the opportunist leaders of the ‘old’ unions in an attempt to prevent the May Day celebration in 1890 — decided on by the Marxist-led International Congress. In Engels’ article ‘May 4 in London’(11) there is a full account of the struggle over this May Day. There were two demonstrations that day but the one which was brought about by Engels and his group was by far the largest and better organised with the four largest branches of the SDF joining in it, despite their leaders. Engels hailed it as the first international action of the working class.

The 1891 demonstration was a united one. A Demonstration Committee had been formed by the ‘Legal Eight Hours and International Labour League’ and the London Trades Council, where the ‘old’ trade union leaders had been forced this year to support the demonstration and a resolution calling for the eight hour day.

‘The Legal Eight Hours and International Labour League’ had been set up at a conference in July 1890.(12) conference was called by the May Day Committee which had organised the demonstration that year supporting the International Congress resolution.
Aveling was elected chairman of the League and the programme adopted was: 1) the legal enforcement of the Paris Congress decisions on the eight hour day; 2) acceptance of measures to be worked out by the society for the full emancipation of the workers; 3) the organisation of an independent Labour Party with its own candidates at elections wherever there was a chance of success.

The SDF leaders tried to break up the Demonstration Committee before the 1891 demonstration. This time, they swung to adventurism. They moved to hold the demonstration on May 1st, instead of the following Sunday. In 1891, that would have meant the mass of the newly organised workers, particularly dockers and gasworkers, would not have attended. It would have been a small rally, primarily consisting of the socialist groups. When their proposition was rejected, the SDF walked out of the committee.

The demonstration, however, was an enormous success. Estimates of numbers present vary from a quarter to half a million people. The resolution on the eight hour day was carried with acclaim by the crowds surrounding every platform.

The SDF was not just a party which had a few sectarian aberrations but which, on the whole, did a useful propaganda job. It was a weapon against the development of the working class in the eighties and nineties. Hundreds of workers were repelled by the SDF. Engels, in a letter to Lafargue at the time of the fourteenth conference of the SDF (August 1894), made the following estimates: ‘it has 4,500 members. Last year there were 7,000 names on its membership list, so it has lost 2,500. But what of it? asks Hyndman. In the 14 years of its existence the SDF has seen a million people pass through its ranks. . . Out of one million 999,500 have hopped it, but — 4,500 have stayed!’ (Emphasis by Engels).

At the very least the SDF left a legacy in the working class movement of combining academic and abstract ‘Marxism’ with opportunist practice; of combining dogmas and exceedingly revolutionary phrases with reactionary deeds and reactionary ideas. But it did more than that. Hyndman and Co. played a crucial role in assisting the forces opposed to the emergence of a mass party of the British working class under Marxist leadership.

Hyndman’s campaign against Engels and his group reached the utmost depths of scandal and slander. As the possibilities for Marxism grew so did its unscrupulousness.

In 1890, as an ally of Hyndman there appeared a sinister individual named Ferdinand Gilles who was a German emigre journalist. Gilles had come to England in 1886, but his origins were shrouded in mist. Bebel told Engels that a radical member of the Reichstag had warned him that Gilles was a very unsavoury character. Engels wrote to Laura Lafargue about Hyndman keeping ‘as his German chief of staff that outrageous scamp Gilles, who is evidently in the pay of the German Embassy.’

He and Hyndman mounted a monstrous attack centred on Aveling. Edward Aveling evidently had weaknesses. He ran up a number of personal debts and there were scandals with woman. He was, however, a capable lecturer, organiser, writer of popular pamphlets, in great demand as a speaker at mass meetings and, above all, conducted a principled struggle to intervene together with Eleanor Marx in the mass movement of workers. Hyndman and Gilles, clearly seized quite consciously on the one they considered the most vulnerable of their opponents and released on him their concentrated filth and venom. Their method was to use innuendo, loaded questions and smears. Aveling was accused, among other things, of living well at the expense of workers — together with Eleanor Marx — during a speaking tour of America. It was implied that he had taken money out of the May Day demonstration fund. A leaflet was circulated with a heading:
‘Is this Marx’s son-in-law? stating he already had a wife.

It was an international campaign of slander with Gilles using Justice, leaflets and pamphlets. He not only distributed his leaflets in England, but on the Continent in English and German.

Yvonne Kapp, in her book on Eleanor Marx, makes the following comment on Gilles:


Thus Gilles’ campaign must have had some ulterior motive, and the one that comes most readily to mind is that to discredit two of the very few English Marxists who had close relations with those on the Continent would be of service to the functionaries employed to counter the spread of Marxism, particularly where it had the strongest hold and, under the Prussian police state, they abounded.

With his expulsion from the Communist Workers’ Club in January 1892, Gilles lost his only political foothold in England and his usefulness as a liaison man was spent.

He disappears from the stage.


Kapp says Hyndman was duped and refers to the campaign of 1890-91 as an ‘ugly squall’. Clearly, however, this was no squall which blew up; it was a well planned operation and with no small effect. Yvonne Kapp is of the opinion that Hyndman could not get much out of it in Britain. She writes that ‘GlUes’ campaign was not primarily directed at the British movement at all: a fact, which had he not been blinded by his own anger, Hyndman would have perceived and, in so far as he did not, was certainly the dupe. The whole thing fell rather flat in England. . . murky political waters are not the English working man’s natural element, nor does he rise naturally to the poisoned bait.’

Which leaves aside the whole purpose of such a witch-hunt. In this period there was posed a historic break for the working class. This witch-hunt was a service to every force resisting such a break; to trade union bureaucrats, labour aristocrats and opportunists generally. It was precisely its purpose to create an atmosphere in which workers moving to politics would have the feeling that all politics, and, in particular, revolutionary politics, was ‘murky’. It was meant to prevent international links from strengthening Marxism in Britain.

In September 1892, the Glasgow Trade Union Congress carried a resolution, submitted by the Bradford Trades Council declaring the time had come to form a new political party, independent, and pledged to make the conditions of labour the paramount question in British politics. The decision was a reflection of the class movements that had already taken place and which had resulted in the birth of the ‘new unions and the expansion of the ‘old’.(13)

However, there was already the beginning of a slump in trade. It would hit worst of all the mass of casual labourers and most exploited workers who had burst out into organisation at the end of the eighties.
The Webbs declare: ‘The unskilled labourers once more largely fell away from the Trade Union ranks. . . The older unions retained a large part, at any rate, of the two hundred thousand members added to their ranks between 1887 and 1891.’

The Parliamentary Committee did not take any action on the resolution of 1892 on the formation of a labour party, although the upsurge had effected a political development in the ‘old’ unions. The Times reported that the ‘Socialist Party’ was supreme in the Trades Union Congress of 1893. It adopted resolutions including nationalisation of the land and other means of production and distribution.

But the conservative trade union leaders resisted. The bureaucracy was strengthened by the slump and the attacks which were mounted by the employers. The Parliamentary Committee continued to do nothing about the resolutions they disagreed with.

In January 1893, 120 delegates met in Bradford and formed the Independent Labour Party. It had the support of groups of workers in northern England and Scotland. There was big support for independent working class representation in Bradford and other northern towns. In Bradford a strong Labour Union had been formed after a lock-out in 1890, when the Riot Act was read and troops occupied the streets. The Labour Union already had councillors on Bradford City Council. After the conference, Engels wrote to Serge (January 18, 1893):


And as the mass of the membership is certainly very good, as the centre of gravity lies in the provinces and not in London, the home of cliques, and as the main point of the programme is ours, Aveling was right to join and accept a seat on the executive.
The fact that here too, people like Keir Hardie, Shaw-Maxwell and others are pursuing all sorts of secondary aims of personal ambition is, of course obvious. But the danger arising from this becomes less according to the degree in which the party itself becomes stronger and gets more of a mass character, and it is already diminished by the necessity of exposing the weakness of the competing sects. Socialism has penetrated the masses in the industrial districts in the last years and I’m counting on these masses to keep the leaders in order.


Engels’ optimism was not justified. In the following years there was an ebb in the mass movement, but that was not the decisive thing. The decisive lack, was in Marxist cadre able to develop the theoretical firmness to both penetrate the masses and combat opportunism. How well timed were the blows of Hyndman against Marxist leadership during the rise and peak of the movement among the new masses, in the years 1888-1892! And when the opportunists from the bourgeois radicals took over the leadership of the ILP and the movement in the unions pushed forward again at the end of the century, the SDF continued to channel into sectarian aloofness workers attracted to it. Engels himself died in 1895 and Eleanor Marx in 1898.

In 1892, at the General Election, Keir Hardie had been elected MP for South-West Ham, John Burns for Battersea and Havelock Wilson for Middlesborough. All of them had stood as independent labour or socialist candidates. In 1895 all twenty seven of the ILP candidates were defeated. Keir Hardie lost his seat. In that year the old guard of the Trades Union Congress scored a victory. New Standing Orders were decreed, introducing the block vote and excluding Trades Council delegates and any delegate not working at a recognised job or who were not trade union officials. All these measures were meant to reduce the number of socialists at the Congress.

With the complexities and difficulties in these years in the middle of the decade, opportunism moved to the fore. Inability to struggle for theory led some who had fought beside Engels and Eleanor Marx to succumb to opportunist pressure. Hardie headed back to Nonconformism and picked up ethical socialism. He and Tom Mann, like ships without a rudder in face of the problems of this time, joined in the hysteria of the anarchists at the 1895 Congress of the International in attempting to disrupt organised and serious work. Burns began his journey to the right which ended in a seat in a Liberal Cabinet.

In 1897, Tom Mann resigned as national secretary of the ILP. MacDonald, Glasier and Snowden, middle class ‘evolutionary’ socialists, took over the leadership with Hardie. The ILP developed its characteristic eclectic mixture of ethical, evolutionary socialism, revolutionary socialism, pacifism, ‘Marxism’ and religion. Into it were swept all the bourgeois radical left-over ideas. Their strength grew with the ebb of that movement.

The employers used the drop in trade for an offensive against the unions. The 1890s saw them developing their organisation. The National Free Labour Association was formed in 1893 — it organised the systematic importation of blackleg labour and supplied strikebreakers. In 1896, the Engineering Employers’ Associations formed a Federation ‘to protect and defend the interests of employers against combinations of workmen’. The Employers’ Parliamentary Council was established in 1898. These bodies spearheaded an attack on trade union rights established in the seventies. The rights of picketing and of striking were being shattered under a legal barrage in the courts. The famous Taffe Vale decisions of 1901, which placed a punitive fine on the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for a strike, was but the culminating point of this legal offensive.

In all trade unions there was a resurgent movement for independent political organisation at the end of the decade. At the 1899 TUC, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants moved a successful resolution for the calling of a conference on independent workers’ representation in Parliament.




On February 27, 1900, that conference, meeting in the Memorial Hall, Farringdon St, set up the Labour Representation Committee.
The bulk of the delegates were from trade unions with some 400,000 members — being less than half of the membership of the Trades Union Congress at that time. Other delegates were from the Social Democratic Federation (9,000 members), the Independent Labour Party (13,000 members) and the Fabian Society (861 members).

Thus the British working class entered the twentieth century with a historic move towards a mass party independent of the capitalist parties. The SDF moved a resolution that: ‘The representatives of the working class movement in the House of Commons shall form there a distinct party, based upon the recognition of the class war, and having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange . .

The Independent Labour Party delegates moved an amendment that a ‘distinct Labour Group’ in Parliament should be set up which ‘shall have their own whips and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any Party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interest of Labour. .

The amendment was carried by 53 votes to 39 with about a fourth of the delegates abstaining! So reports H.W. Lee who was secretary of the SDF.’(14)

The conference came into being as a result of the British working class asserting its independence. The opportunist socialists of the ILP jumped in to ensure it stated no class policy or sharp break with the Liberals. The conference thus repudiated its own birth. And the policy of the opportunists in the previous decade had encouraged what remained the backward side of British trade unionism — the opposition to theory. Over a quarter of the trade union delegates abstained! For them it was — what do the words matter, let’s get on with doing it.


1. There is an example of a powerful radical republican movement collapsing as a result of the fear engendered among the bourgeoisie by the Paris Commune of 1871. From that time Bradlaugh and the radicals who led it ceased their attacks on the institution of monarchy. They confined themselves to a protest ranting against royal expenses.

2 . History of Trade Unionism 1666-1920 Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

3. Trotsky comments: ‘From Puritanism the MacDonalds have inherited — not its revolutionary strength but its religious prejudices. From the Owenites — not their communist enthusiasm but their reactionary Utopian hostility to the class struggle. From Britain’s past political history the Fabians have borrowed only the spiritual dependence of the proletariat on the bourgeoisie. History has turned its backside on these gentlemen and the inscriptions they read there have become their programme.’ ‘Where is Britain Going’. Writings on Britain Vol Il.

4. Halevy’s History of the English People Epilogue (1895-1905).

5. The Record of an Adventurous Life, M.H. Hyndman. He further writes: ‘So far, several of the more energetic of the working class, when they have obtained their education from the well-to-do Socialists who have been sacrificing themselves for their sake, have hastened to sell out to the dominant minority, and most of the workers, in Great Britain at any rate, have applauded their sagacity, and have voted for the successful turncoats at the polls.’

6. Hyndman described a sale of the SOF paper — ‘Justice — in Fleet Street and the Strand: ‘It was a curious scene, Morris in his soft hat and blue suit. Champion, Frost and Joynes in the morning garments of the well-to-do, several working comrades, and I myself wearing the new frock coat in which Shaw said I was born, with a tall hat and good gloves, all earnestly engaged in selling a penny socialist paper during the busiest time of London’s busiest thoroughfare’.’

7. Asked in January 1891 about the desirability of forming a new working class party Sidney Webb wrote to the Workman’s Times that ‘the nature of an Englishman seems suited only to a political fight between two parties — the party of order and the party of progress’.

8. ‘The creation of the British trade unions was to a large extent the result of the influence of the French Revolution on the Labouring masses of Britain. The triumph of reaction on the Continent. . . led in 1815 to.. . the introduction of the’ Corn Laws in Britain. The July Revolution of 1830 in France gave an impetus to the first Electoral Reform Bill of 1831 in Britain. The defeat of the revolutionary movement on the Continent in 1848 not only meant the decline of the Chartist movement but put a brake on the democratisation of the British Parliament for a longtime afterwards. The electoral reform of 1867 was preceded by the Civil War In the United States . . The defeat of the 1848 revolution had weakened the British workers but the Russian Revolution of 1905 immediately strengthened them . . . ‘ Where Is Britain Going'.

9. Discussing the question why a mass Marxist party did not develop in Britain, G.D.H. Cole informed us that this was becauseof two reasons. The first (of course) was the British political character. The secondary reason was that Marx and Engels did not assist the development of such a party because they had a personal dislike for Hyndman! The source he draws on is Hyndman himself. Hyndman justifies the publication of his book England for All where he plagiarised Marx without making any attribution to Marx or even any mention of him. What he does not relate is that earlier, in the autumn of 1860, he visited Marx several times. Marx gave him information about the prospects of the revolutionary movement on the Continent. Hyndman then wrote an article in the Nineteenth Century in which Marx’ information was made use of in an anti-revolutionary way. (See Max Beer’s History of British Socialism). It was, of course, Hyndman who conducted a vicious ‘personal’ struggle. And his sneers at Engels contrast sharply with his kindly references in his reminiscences to his many friends among the ruling class statesmen. It seems to be a ‘characteristic’ of lefts in Britain who flirt with Marxism, that they proudly maintain relations with members of the ruling class and love to be shown off and discuss their salons. Hyndman went to Disraeli, Chamberlain, Clemenceau and others to give them the benefit of his intelligence. Harold Laski had his relationships with Churchill. Aneurin Bevan frequented the Beaverbrook salons.

10. In the split in the French Workers Party in 1882, Benoit Malon and Paul Brousse were leaders of the ‘possibilists’. Lafargue and Guesde led the Marxists. Engels described the possibilists’ as the ‘tail of the bourgeois radical party’ and wrote to Bebel as follows: ‘The issue is purely one of principle: is the struggle to be conducted as a class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, or is it to be permitted that in good opportunist (or as it is called in the socialist translation: possibilist) style, the class character of the movement, together with the programme, are everywhere to be dropped where there is a chance of winning more votes, more adherents, by this means.’

11. Marx and Engels on Britain

12. ‘The Metropolitan Liberal and Radical Federation, the Fulham Liberal Club, the radical Clubs of Herne Hill, Mildmay, Chiswick, Woolwich and East Finsbury, the London Patriotic Club and the Scottish Labour Party were represented side by side with the trade unions of gasworkers, railwaymen, women, clerks, farriers, cement makers, photographic cabinetmakers, and the National Federation of all Trades and Industries.’ Eleanor Marx Vol II, Yvonne Kapp.

13. The eleven principal societies in the shipbuilding and metal trades increased from 115,000 at the end of 1888 to 155,000 in 1891. The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants rose from 12,000 to 30,000.

14. Social Democracy In Britain H.W. Lee and F. Archbold.


March 1982