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  1. In 2020 I finished my latest, and possibly my last, study of the early British socialist movement. As I explained earlier (see Blog 2) when I did my D Phil research in the second half of the 1970s I was inspired by a wish to test out the contention made at the end of Walter Kendall's The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-1920.

    The revolutionary movement, before the transformation took place had been ultra democratic, opposed to leadership on principle, opposed to the professionalisation of the Labour movement almost as an article of faith.


    I already knew, thanks to reading Logie Barrow's thesis that Blatchford and The Clarion had been very much in this camp but I was totally surprised to find that to a very large extent the same was true of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF). It has been so misrepresented that it is tempting to suspect a plot covering several generations dedicated to carrying this out deliberately. But an investigation of this, even in the unlikely event of its turning up any persuasive evidence, would still leave the question of the nature of the SDF and what it stood for unanswered. Much better to address this than to worry about why historians have served the SDF appallingly badly' as Martin Crick said citing a lecture by John Foster back in 1984.


    The title of my study is still to be finalised but it will certainly include 'Social-Democracy with a Hyphen.' Social Democracy – without a hyphen - came for much of the 20th century to be synonymous with middle-of-the road 'moderation' But, as I've tried to show, this was far from true of the SDF – above all of those who referred to themselves as its 'Old Guard' who are the subject of my study.


    I show that there was from the earliest days of the SDF a commitment to the most radical

    change imaginable. Nothing less than the ideal of the 'Co-operative Commonwealth' could satisfy the aspirations of the 'Old Guard'. But crucially this was to be achieved by political persuasion – inevitably a gradual process – and certainly not by trying to impose a supposedly socialist regime.


    Hyndman, the single most influential member of the SDF 'Old Guard' insisted that Social-Democrats were the true heirs of the Chartists and that the term Social-Democrat had been introduced by Bronterre O'Brien who had 'used the term Social-Democrat to express the views of those who wished to bring about a complete social reconstruction under democratic forms.'


    When the SDF was founded in the early 1880s the state of affairs in Britain was anything but democratic. About a third of men and all women were excluded from voting in parliamentary elections, but while the situation fell far short of the democratic ideal and nothing resembling a 'level playing field' existed in British politics it was at least possible to advocate far-reaching political change without being suppressed.


    Political demands – universal suffrage, proportional representation, the initiative and referendum – were always at the forefront of the SDF programme.

    Then in 1911 the party attempted to achieve the longed-for 'socialist unity' but ended up with a British Socialist Party which included many people influenced by syndicalism but still left the ILP as the main socialist party of the country.


    Available in UK from

    ISBN 13; 178-1-5272-6126-6


    Hyndman, and also the Clarion's Blatchford, were much criticised for warning of the 'German menace' years before the war broke out but when did a gulf opened in the BSP between the 'Old Guard' who still controlled the old SDF, now BSP, paper Justice and the largely much younger people who by 1916 had become the BSP majority. A split followed

    with Justice and the 'Old Guard' becoming the most outspoken and unequivocal critics and opponents of the Bolsheviks while the rest of the BSP went on to form – eventually – the British Communist Party in 1920. I had discussed this polarisation in Romancing the Revolution but in the new study I follow the 'Old Guard' into the post-world war period,


    One thing is perfectly clear. While much of the British socialist movement - where it did not throw in its lot completely with Lenin and the Bolsheviks - was inclined to view their activities through rose-tinted spectacles members of the revived SDF – which sadly gradually petered out in the 'twenties and 'thirties - rejected Leninism – even of the 'watered-down' sort typical of the British Left outside the CP – both as a revolutionary theory and as an oppressive practice more completely and insisted on pursuing democracy more consistently than any other part of the British Left

  2. Since childhood I have always been what used to be known as a 'late-developer' in the mid-C20. So it's not entirely surprising that my name did not appear on the cover of any book until 1992 when I was 51.


    The book was Sylvia Pankhurst. From Artists to Anti-Fascist which I edited with Sylvia's son, the late Professor Richard Pankhurst. I'd been introduced to Richard by Walter Kendall, author of the celebrated The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900-21: The Origins of British Communism – the inspiration for most of what I've written about socialism in Britain.. We were all then, in the late '80s, looking forward to a biography of Sylvia by the American, Patricia Romero.


    But when it came out in 1990 the book – E Sylvia Pankhurst: Portrait of a Radical - didn't seem to do full justice to its subject and we disagreed with some particular aspects of Romero's interpretation. Could another biography put this right? The problem was how on earth could you adequately write about a woman who was born in Manchester in 1882 and after she died in 1960 was buried - after state funeral at the Holy Trinity cathedral - in Addis Ababa? At her funeral the emperor of Ethiopia. Haile Selassie, named her as an honorary Ethiopian and she was buried in a plot reserved for patriots who had resisted the devastating Italian invasion of 1935. To make matters more compicated and demanding still It was not as though she had not been a leading figure in many movements in between and campaigns in between for most of her 78 years. Who had the expertise to write about all that?


    As I said in my introduction to our book 'To find someone equally adept in the suffragist, socialist, Communist, and anti-fascist worlds over a period of more than thirty years was asking a good deal. To find such a person with sufficient understanding also of the Ethiopian background to make sense of Sylvia's experience with and in that country suggested needles and haystacks.' But we did know of a number of people with expertise in the various aspects of her career- so we set out to recruit them for our book.


    And even before all that there had been her all-too-short career as an artist of great promise to which two chapters of our book were devoted. Hilary Cunliffe-Charlesworth told us of Pankhurst as an art student with a mind very much of her own and Jackie Duckworth wrote about the very interesting and promising art works she went on to produce. This was followed by Les Garner's contribution exploring her involvement with the suffragettes and with socialism leading to her East London Federation being expelled – by her own mother and sister – from the main suffragette organisation the Women's Social and Political Union.. Barbara Winslow wrote about Sylvia's opposition to World War I. Four years later Barbara's own take on Pankhurst appeared in Sylvia Pankhurst. Sexual Politics and Activism.


    My own contribution came next in the book after Barbara's in which I followed our subject's involvement with the Russian revolution and early enthusiasm for the Bolsheviks which led her to launching her own Communist Party well before what I'll call the 'real one' was formed. She reluctantly joined the regular Communist Party only to be expelled after she refused to hand over her paper -the Workers' Dreadnought. Not untypically she insisted, that she couldn't have been expelled since she had never signed an application or membership card because she had been serving a six-month sentence in Holloway prison for an offence under the notorious Defence of the Realm Act at the crucial time.


    Richard Pankhurst really did have the familiarity with Ethiopia and the inside knowledge to give a full and clear account of his mother's involvement in Ethiopia from the mid-1930s and the book concluded with a shorter piece on the Pankhurst Papers by Wilhelmina Schreuder who had been involved with them at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam since 1965 – an invaluable resource.