about ian bullock

Ian Bullock


Since the 1970s I have been working – whenever I have had the time (and energy) – on what to me seems a question which is both fascinating and important – the relationship between socialism and democracy in Britain. I say, in Britain, because that's what I've worked on – but, of course, my interest, and the implications of my work are not confined by national boundaries. (see for example the 1987 article mentioned below.)

In 1981 I completed, as a part-time research student, the doctoral thesis, 'Socialists and Democratic Form in Britain, 1880-1914: Positions, debates and conflicts'. The D Phil at the University of Sussex was awarded in 1982.

I attempted in the '80s to get the work published - but lacked the necessary perseverance. Meanwhile, in 1987 a joint article with Sián Reynolds 'Direct Legislation and Socialism. How British and French Socialists viewed the Referendum in the 1890s' was published in History Workshop Journal 24 Autumn 1987.

I then edited, with Richard Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst. From Artist to Anti-Fascist (Macmillan, 1992). This includes my own chapter 'Sylvia Pankhurst and the Russian Revolution: The Making of a "Left-Wing" Communist.'

The substance of my thesis was finally published, together with chapters on the trade union aspect of democracy from Logie's work, in Logie Barrow and Ian Bullock Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement, 1880-1914 (CUP, 1996).

My book Romancing the Revolution. The Myth of Soviet Democracy and the British Left was published by Athabasca University (AU) Press in 2011 and the same publisher brought out my book on the ILP in the 1920s and 1930s, Under Siege, The Independent Labour Party in Interwar Britain in 2017

It has long seemed to me that some people on the Left who take any interest in history seem often to be motivated more by a search for "correct" policy and to identifying those who behaved in what they think was the "right" way than in attempting to understand how and why events came about the way they did and exploring the thinking and the feelings of those on all sides of the debates and conflicts which contributed to this. My intention is always to try to help us all to understand how people came to the conclusions they did, what they actually believed, and why they acted as they did. The mentality that insists on sitting in judgement on the past obstructs rather than enhances our understanding of it.

One always wants to know where historians are 'coming from' – particularly in the case of such politically sensitive and controversial areas as the ones I'm concerned with. This seems to me a very legitimate concern.

I have never considered myself a political activist. My only sustained – but low profile – activism was in my trade union, (then) NATFHE, in which I was, for example, one of the delegates of its South East Region at all – or nearly all – the annual conferences in the 1970s and 1980s. The only political organisations – leaving aside the usual single issue campaigns – that I have been a member of are the Labour Party (1964 to the present) and, in the late 1960s, the May Day Manifesto Group. .I was also involved with Voice of the Unions in the 1970s.

Writing Under Siege brought me in touch with the ILP,  I became a ‘friend’ and wrote a few short pieces for their website which will be found on at  https://www.independentlabour.org.uk


Ian Bullock