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The Making of British Socialism

The Making of British Socialism

Mark Bevir
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Making of British Socialism
    Book Description:

    The Making of British Socialismprovides a new interpretation of the emergence of British socialism in the late nineteenth century, demonstrating that it was not a working-class movement demanding state action, but a creative campaign of political hope promoting social justice, personal transformation, and radical democracy. Mark Bevir shows that British socialists responded to the dilemmas of economics and faith against a background of diverse traditions, melding new economic theories opposed to capitalism with new theologies which argued that people were bound in divine fellowship.

    Bevir utilizes an impressive range of sources to illuminate a number of historical questions: Why did the British Marxists follow a Tory aristocrat who dressed in a frock coat and top hat? Did the Fabians develop a new economic theory? What was the role of Christian theology and idealist philosophy in shaping socialist ideas? He explores debates about capitalism, revolution, the simple life, sexual relations, and utopian communities. He gives detailed accounts of the Marxists, Fabians, and ethical socialists, including famous authors such as William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. And he locates these socialists among a wide cast of colorful characters, including Karl Marx, Henry Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Oscar Wilde.

    By showing how socialism combined established traditions and new ideas in order to respond to the changing world of the late nineteenth century,The Making of British Socialismturns aside long-held assumptions about the origins of a major movement.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4028-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Socialism and History
    (pp. 1-21)

    “We Are All Socialists Now: The Perils and Promise of the New Era of Big Government” ran the provocative cover ofNewsweekon 11 February 2009. A financial crisis had swept through the economy. Several small banks had failed. The state had intervened, pumping money into the economy, bailing out large banks and other failing financial institutions, and taking shares and part ownership in what had been private companies. The cover ofNewsweekshowed a red hand clasping a blue one, implying that both sides of the political spectrum now agreed on the importance of such state action.

    Although socialism...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Victorian Context
    (pp. 22-42)

    InDombey and Son, the famous Victorian novelist Charles Dickens described a London suburb:

    The first shock of a great earthquake had, just at that period, rent the whole neighbourhood to its centre. Traces of its course were visible on every side. Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood. Here, a chaos of carts, overthrown and jumbled together, lay topsy-turvy at the bottom of a steep unnatural hill; there, confused...

  8. Part One: The Marxists

    • CHAPTER THREE Ernest Belfort Bax
      (pp. 45-64)

      Socialism flourished as people from diverse traditions responded to dilemmas such as the crisis of faith and the collapse of classical political economy. In the early nineteenth century, evangelicalism and classical political economy had lent considerable intellectual legitimacy to capitalism. Yet, evangelicalism and classical political economy were never ubiquitous; they were always contested. Secularists were skeptical of all forms of faith, including evangelicalism. Popular radicals combined secularism with a republican politics that challenged liberalism and especially the political power of landowners and finance capitalists. Tory radicals denounced classical political economy for its association with an urbanization and industrialization that they...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Henry Mayers Hyndman
      (pp. 65-84)

      In 1881 two articles introduced Karl Marx’s ideas to the British public. The one by Ernest Belfort Bax provided a reasonable introduction to Marx’s ideas. The other, by Henry Mayers Hyndman, did not mention Marx by name and advocated a very different politics, but it borrowed extensively from Marx’s analysis of capitalism. Over time, Bax may have become the recognized philosopher of the Marxist court in Britain, but it was Hyndman who built what there was of a Marxist movement. He founded and long dominated the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), which was the first socialist society of the 1880s, for...

    • CHAPTER FIVE William Morris
      (pp. 85-105)

      Historians have dismissed Ernest Belfort Bax as irrelevant and denounced Henry Mayers Hyndman as domineering, but they have generally idealized William Morris. Morris is everyone’s favorite British socialist. Every socialist camp has tried to claim him as one of its own, with a fierce debate raging for much of the twentieth century over whether or not he was a Marxist.

      Early commentators insisted Morris was an ethical socialist. John Bruce Glasier remembered Morris telling a meeting, “To speak quite frankly, I do not know what Marx’s theory of value is, and I’m dammed if I want to know”; “I have...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Social Democratic Federation
      (pp. 106-128)

      Historians often narrate the early years of British Marxism as a titanic struggle between Henry Mayers Hyndman and William Morris, with other walk-on parts being played by the likes of Edward Aveling (Karl Marx’s son-in-law), Ernest Belfort Bax, and even Friedrich Engels. The plot is tragic; the good Morris gets sidelined, the villainous Hyndman dominates, and his authoritarianism and jingoism antagonize the workers, thus strangling the Marxist movement at birth. For a long time, the members of early Marxist organizations played a remarkably small role in the story. Their scripted lines came from the old historiography: they were class-conscious workers...

  9. Part Two: The Fabians

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Theories of Rent
      (pp. 131-151)

      The British socialist movement emerged as people from diverse traditions grappled with the crisis of faith and the collapse of classical political economy. We have now seen how a few Tory radicals and republicans came together with popular radicals and continental exiles from the London clubs to form Marxist organizations, most importantly the Social Democratic Federation. Soon after, a few liberal radicals began to join the socialist movement. Historically, liberal radicals generally believed in classical political economy and the implausibility of socialist schemes. Then, as classical political economy fell apart, liberal radicals adopted neoclassical, marginal, and positivist economic theories, and...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT George Bernard Shaw
      (pp. 152-172)

      Many of the earliest members of the Fabian Society had been on the fringe of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). Many had Christian backgrounds. They responded to the crisis of faith in part with a reformist humanitarian zeal focused on ameliorating the conditions of the poor. This humanitarianism included sympathy for programs of economic and social reform, mainly land nationalization but also Marxism. Some of the early Fabians combined their reformist humanitarianism with a loosely Tory inheritance. The main examples were H. H. Champion, Robert Frost, and James Joynes. They soon drifted away from the Fabians. The other early...

    • CHAPTER NINE Sidney Webb
      (pp. 173-194)

      Historians often describe the Fabians as straightforward descendants of the utilitarian liberal radicalism of the early nineteenth century. However, the liberal inheritance of the Fabians is more complex than that. Most Fabians had Christian, and often evangelical, backgrounds. Many responded to the crisis of faith by adopting reformist humanitarianism. Tory and Liberal strands of reformist humanitarianism certainly inspired the founders of the Fabian Society, including H. H. Champion, Edward Pease, and Frank Podmore. Humanitarianism prompted the Fabians to explore land reform, Georgism, and even Marxism. Most of the Tory radicals left the Fabians. Their place was taken by liberal humanitarians,...

    • CHAPTER TEN Permeation and Independent Labor
      (pp. 195-214)

      Historians have long debated the extent to which the Fabians acted as John the Baptist to the Labour Party. Initially, most historians accepted the Fabians’ account of themselves as the single most important group in getting socialism a foothold on British soil. In this view, the Fabians forged a gradualist constitutionalist tradition of socialism that gave rise to the Labour Party by way of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).¹ Then, during the latter half of the twentieth century, most historians dismissed the Fabians as largely inconsequential. Eric Hobsbawm and Alan McBriar led those who argued that the ILP took its...

  10. Part Three: The Ethical Socialists

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Welfarism, Socialism, and Religion
      (pp. 217-234)

      The Marxists and Fabians were relatively small groups concentrated mainly in London. Yet, as we saw in the last chapter, the Fabian Society grew remarkably quickly from about 350 members in 1891 to about 1,300 a year later. Many of the new socialists came from the provinces. Even if they joined the Fabian Society, they were rarely active in it. Rather, the new socialists were inspired by an ethical socialism that flourished in local organizations, utopian communities, labor churches, and, later on, the Independent Labour Party. These ethical socialists concentrated more on the moral development of individuals than on economic...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE American Romanticism and British Socialism
      (pp. 235-255)

      In 1906 William Stead sent a questionnaire to prominent members of the Labour Party asking what books had influenced them.¹ The most frequently cited authors were Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, but Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were not far behind. Much has been written about the influence of British romanticism on the British socialist movement, and perhaps the obvious impact of Carlyle and Ruskin has obscured that of Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.² It may be difficult to assess the influence of the American romantics, since their views closely resemble those of their British counterparts. Nonetheless, we...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Ethical Anarchism
      (pp. 256-277)

      Most Victorians thought of anarchism as an individualist doctrine lurking in the clandestine organizations of violent revolutionaries. However, by the outbreak of the First World War, a very different type of anarchism had become equally prominent. The new anarchists still opposed the state, but they were communalists, not individualists, and they hoped to realize their ideal peacefully through personal example and moral education, not violently through acts of terror and a general uprising. They took inspiration from Peter Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy.

      The new anarchism overlapped markedly with ethical socialism. From one side, the new anarchists were part of the...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Labour Church Movement
      (pp. 278-297)

      The old historiography of British socialism tended to discount the persistence of religious belief and to locate the rise of socialism in a process of secularization. Yet, the conference held in Bradford in 1893 to form the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was accompanied by a Labour Church service attended by some five thousand people.¹ The conference took place in a disused chapel then being run as a labour institute by the Bradford labor church as well as the local labor union and the local Fabians. The Labour Church movement was created by John Trevor, who, as we saw in chapters...

    • CONCLUSION Socialism, Labor, and the State
      (pp. 298-316)

      Historians have often discussed socialism as a product of the rise of a secular society and class-based politics. Socialism and the social democratic welfare state appeared as the inevitable results of a process of socioeconomic modernization. Today, however, the old historiography might seem simplistic and even implausible in the presence of a growing suspicion of any vestige of teleology and determinism. New historiographies might turn instead to the contingent processes by which people made socialism. Socialism was not a byproduct of the growth of a secular or class-based society. On the contrary, people actively made socialism as they struggled to...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-336)
  12. Index
    (pp. 337-350)