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WRITING ROMANCING THE REVOLUTION: THE MYTH OF SOVIET DEMOCRACY AND THE BRITISH LEFT

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The second book I had a hand in – well a lot more of a hand as I'll explain - has the rather ponderous title Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement 1880 to 1914 . It was published by CUP in 1996. Of the 13 chapters all but four of them were based on my 1982 Sussex University D Phil thesis 'Socialists and Democratic Form. Positions and Debates' - an even less snappy and inspiring title! My co-author Logie Barrow drew on his own thesis about Robert Blatchford and the Clarion movement to supply the rest of the book. He traced the movement for greater democracy and against bureaucracy in the trade unions of the period

 

More than any thing else my research which began, part-time, in 1975 had been inspired by a sentence at the end of Walter Kendall's then quite recently published 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.

 

The 'transformation' was the advent of the Communist Party and of the dogmatic Leninist approach to socialism more generally. What I'd found after about 6 years of research largely on the newspapers and other records of the various components of pre-1914 British socialism was that – though some trends in the opposite direction manifested themselves from time to time – Walter had been broadly right.

 

I tried to get a book based on my thesis published much earlier but had given up hope

when Logie, suggested we could combine my stuff with some of his own . When we got to the stage where publication was imminent he suggested that since the greater part of the book had been based on my research my name should come first on the title page and cover. But I insisted that since 'a' comes before 'u' we ought to stick to alphabetical order. From time to time I've regretted my insistence when – not unreasonably – people have assumed that my contributions were those of Logie and asked me detailed questions about what was going on the trade unions in the 1890s that I had trouble answering..

 

The thing that had surprised me the most when I set about researching in the mid-'70s was the attitudes and policies of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) I'd formed the impression of an austere bunch simply parroting the Marxist orthodoxy of the day. But the truth was quite different -as I hope the book demonstrates along with much else. My revaluation of the SDF is something that years later I have returned to writing about.(See Blog 6)

 

The 1996 book looks at all the main components of the pre-1914 socialist movement in Britain – the SDF/BSP, the ILP, the Fabians and the Clarion movement. It does indeed give lots of examples of the 'ultra-democratic' aspirations and the anti professionalisation that was very much a major feature of Left-wing thinking of the time, of the Communist Party and of the dogmatic Leninist approach to socialism more generally. What I'd found after about 6 years of research largely on the newspapers and other records of the various components of pre-1914 British socialism was that – though some trends in the opposite direction manifested themselves from time to time – Walter had been right.

 

I tried to get a book based on my thesis published much earlier but had given up hope when Logie, suggested we could combine my stuff with some of his own . When we got to the stage where publication was imminent he suggested that since the greater part of the book had been based on my research my name should come first on the title page and cover. But I insisted that since 'a' comes before 'u' we ought to stick to alphabetical order. From time to time I've regretted my insistence when – not unreasonably – people have assumed that my contributions were those of Logie and asked me detailed questions about what was going on the trade unions in the 1890s that I had trouble answering..

 

The thing that had surprised me the most when I set about researching in the mid-'70s was the attitudes and policies of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF). I'd formed the impression of an austere bunch simply parroting the Marxist orthodoxy of the day. But the truth was quite different -as I hope the book demonstrates along with much else. My revaluation of the SDF is something that years later I have returned to writing about.

 

The 1996 book looks at all the main components of the pre-1914 socialist movement in Britain – the SDF, the ILP, the Fabians and the Clarion. It does indeed give lots of examples of the 'ultra-democratic' aspirations and the anti professionalisation that was very much a major feature of Left-wing thinking of the time.