03. The Democratic Federation and the Socialist League

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

The working class militants were concerned with the practical problems of socialist propaganda on specific issues at the grass roots. As Frank Kitz put it, 'the English Section and the comrades of the Labour Emancipation League worked with only one aim and that was to permeate the mass of the people with a spirit of revolt against their oppressors and against the squalid misery which results from their monopoly of the means of life. No thought of kudos or personal aggrandisement had entered into their efforts to spread the light, and therefore the squabbles between would-be leaders had no interest for them.' [1] This assertion was certainly true of those who formed the libertarian wing of the movement in the 1880s. Whatever the accusations against them by their opponents, seeking a political career was not one of their faults. There were others, however, with more of an eye for the main chance. As we have seen, socialism developed on the left-wing fringe of the Radical movement and in this early period retained strong links with the Radical milieu. There was a wave of discontent among the Radicals when the Liberal government failed to live up to its promises of reform and this discontent made it easier for the socialists to spread their message. But this discontent also attracted more opportunist attention.

The working class vote had been attracted to the Liberal Party by a careful wooing of the Radicals by the more 'progressive' Liberals. The Tory counter-attack took several forms. They did some wooing of their own, setting up clubs under their patronage and seeking the support of the independent clubs for 'Tory Democrat' candidates in elections. The 'Tory Democrats' represented a combination of imperialism abroad and jingoism and a gentle reformism at home. They represented something of a break with the Tories of the old school, who were straightforward representatives of the landed interest. The more far-seeing Tories made the quite correct calculation that if they could split the Radicals from the Liberal Party and set them against each other then this would split the anti-Tory vote and gain Tory majorities in otherwise unpromising seats. The most hopeful means for expediting that split seemed to be independent Labour candidates. The rise of the Labour Party and the concomitant demise of the Liberals shows how correct their thinking was, at least in the short term. It had the disadvantage, however, of being an obvious manoeuvre. Lane relates a crude approach when he was active in Marylebone before the election in 1880. He 'had an offer by the Tories to pay all expenses if we would put up a candidate - wanted us to put up of course to let the Tories in'. [2] The offer was refused.

It was in this rather murky political undergrowth that the Democratic Federation had its origins. H. M. Hyndman, a stockbroker and one of its prime movers, had stood as an independent Tory in Marylebone in 1880. While canvassing the Clubs in the district he met Joe Lane who recalled his impressions of Hyndman's politics at that time. He was opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and land nationalization. On complete adult suffrage he said, "'Do you mean to tell me that a loafer in the East End was to be placed in equality with you, no the furthest I would go is that every man who can read and write is to have a vote." He was on every point a Tory Democrat.' He invited Lane to his house and asked for support for his candidacy from Lane's club. Lane was highly dubious. Hyndman wanted Lane to come on further visits to keep some kind of dialogue going, a proposal Lane found a complete waste of time. Hyndman was pressing, however, and Edwin Dunn, the secretary of the club, became a regular visitor in Lane's place. As a result of these meetings they approached Lane with the idea of 'forming an Independent Labour Party' and asked Lane to call a meeting of delegates from all the workmen's clubs. Lane seems to think that Hyndman was the prime mover here while Kitz says it was Dunn's proposal. Meetings were called to discuss the matter at the Rose Street Club and elsewhere. As a result of these meetings Dunn sent out invitations as secretary of the Marylebone Radical Association to inaugurate an independent labour organization at a meeting at the Westminster Palace Hotel in June 1881.

Professor Beesley, the Positivist defender of the Paris Commune, took the chair at the meeting which included some of the more liberal politicians, delegates from the clubs, the odd Tory Democrat and some of the new socialist militants - 'all sorts and conditions of men' in Kitz's phrase. Lane was one of the socialists and he says 'we drove them as far as we could and set them up with the most advanced programme we could force on them. One whom we had to fight on all the most advanced points was H. M. Hyndman ( ... ) After a hard struggle it was to be [called the] Democratic Federation with adult suffrage, Home Rule, etc. ( ... ).' Lane then withdrew from the organization. Dunn remained but Kitz says that Hyndman 'soon engaged in a conflict with Dunn for the leadership, and evicted him ( ... ).' There is little doubt that it was Hyndman's intention to use this organization as a base for further attempts at election, whether by himself or others. A faithful follower was to write later that Hyndman started the Democratic Federation out of 'disgust at Gladstone and the Liberals, by genuine sympathy with real democratic movements as against party politics and by his own impulsiveness of action ( ... ) and not by any fixed idea of future definite Socialist propaganda and organization'. [3] Hyndman's Tory candidature in 1880 is similarly described as 'impulsive'. His organization was to be impulsive again in the elections of 1885, using Tory money even if it did not stand on a Tory platform.

There is no doubt, however, that Hyndman's ideas ( if not his ambitions ) were in flux at the time. It is probable that his contact with the world of the working-class Radicals had encouraged new thinking. The 'official' history of the S.D.F. says that after the 1880 election his views on Ireland changed and he opposed coercion. [4] By April 1881 Hyndman and his wife were visiting Marx, who thought him 'self-satisfied' and 'garrulous'. [5] By the time of the Democratic Federation founding conference in June, Hyndman had written a little book entitled England for All, which he distributed there. Of this Marx wrote : 'The chapters on Labour and Capital are only literal extracts from, or circumlocutions of, the Capital, but the fellow does neither quote the book, nor the author, but to shield himself from exposure remarks at the end of his preface : "For the ideas ( ... ) in Chapters II and III I am indebted to the work of a great thinker and original writer, etc. etc." Vis-à-vis myself the fellow wrote stupid letters of excuse, for instance, that "the English don't like to be taught by foreigners", that my "name was so much detested, etc.".' For all that, Marx thought it would make good propaganda 'so far as it pilfers the Capital' but the incident was enough to cause a complete breach between Hyndman on the one side and Marx and Engels on the other. Marx felt used : 'All these amiable middle-class writers ( ... ) have an itching to make money or name or political capital immediately out of any new thoughts they may have got at by any favourable windfall. Many evenings this fellow has pilfered from me, in order - to take me out and to learn in the easiest way.' [6] Whatever Hyndman had learned from Marx his jingoism and his imperialist ideas had not changed - they were to stay and plague the socialist movement for the rest of his life.

For the libertarians like Kitz and Lane the Democratic Federation held little charm and they continued with their own work in more congenial surroundings. As far as Lane was concerned, after the founding conference '( ... ) we left them to get on with it. They went to sleep ( ... ) doing practically nothing.' The socialists in the Federation, as far as Kitz was concerned, 'were wasting their time combating the opportunism and jingoism of their shifty leader'. Yet the Federation went through a development of its own which the suspicions of Kitz and Lane did not allow them to see. Hyndman did have a real change of heart. He did change his views on Ireland and the 'Marxism' of England for All did lose him support from the more respectable Radicals after the conference in 1881. He continued to develop ideas based on a mechanistic and 'British' interpretation of Marx's writings. After a series of meetings to discuss 'stepping stone' measures - immediate reforms in housing, land and railway nationalization, education, etc., which were to pave the way for a totally reconstituted society - he produced Socialism Made Plain in 1883. This was adopted at the Federation's Annual Conference that year - 'the first definitely Socialist pronouncement of the Democratic Federation'. This, as it specifically denounced the capitalist class as a class, led to the loss of all those members of the Federation who were not either socialists or near-socialists. [7]

The Democratic Federation had begun to form some sort of organic whole and to pull together a number of people, particularly intellectuals, and the emphasis of the organization had slowly shifted from an attempted independent federation of Radical clubs towards a more specific socialist grouping. Though, again, it is difficult to say how far Hyndman led this process or how far he was pushed into it. One witness says that Charles and James Murray were making the pace too fast for Hyndman's taste. [8] For all this it should be stressed that Hyndman was, without doubt, the dominant personality in the Federation, it being quite psychologically consistent that someone should have both a forceful character and imprecise ideas. And in this latter respect his understanding of Marx, one-dimensional though it might have been, was in advance of that of most of his contemporaries.

The executive elected at the conference of 1883 included Andreas Scheu and William Morris. Morris had been invited to join the Federation by Hyndman and had done so in January 1883. He had become disgusted with the Liberal politicians and their moderate trades union associates during his involvement with the Eastern Question agitation and had declared his intention of joining an avowedly socialist body. His fame as a poet, designer and manufacturer gave a considerable boost to the Federation. His developing commitment to anti-parliamentary socialism and his opposition to Hyndman's political opportunism and domineering attitudes were to help to split it. Andreas Scheu was an already committed anti-parliamentarian socialist. He was an Austrian political exile who arrived in England in 1874 and had played some part in the politics of the German exiles in London. By 1880 he was a member of the group round Most who were deeply influenced by Anarchist ideas. [9] He came to know Most quite well and grew to distrust what he saw as Most's slap-happy ways with confidential documents and information and his insistence on leaving the Freiheit office door unlocked. [10] He began to grow irritated with his fellow Germans : 'The political activity of my country-men became more and more limited to either playing billiards or cards ( ... ) in the rooms at Tottenham street,' ( the Social Democrat/'Marxist' section ) 'or to passing bloodthirsty resolutions at the Anarchist Club under the leadership of tried agents provocateurs; so I turned my gaze upon the purely English working class movement which promised to move into a new phase of activity. I began to visit their meetings.' [11]

Becoming involved with the Democratic Federation, Scheu seems to have quickly developed a very strained relationship with Hyndman which compounded disputes over political tactics with Scheu's sensitivity to Hyndman's chauvinism. Morris's membership of the Democratic Federation was to bring him into contact with many socialists ranging from old Owenites and Chartists to those who held more 'modern' positions. Among them all, according to E. P. Thompson, 'Andreas Scheu ( ... ) from 1883 to 1885 was one of Morris's closest colleagues.' [12]

William Morris was to play an important part in subsequent events and his particular brand of socialism was to have great influence on the movement. It is thus well worth examining the roots of his ideas. There has been something of a genteel struggle over the political remains of William Morris. Anarchists have claimed him as an Anarchist, Marxists as a Marxist. In a very real sense the approach that Morris took to socialism is diminished by such a dispute; it is certainly a blinkered way to read him. Morris was a powerful and original thinker. Engels described him as 'an emotional socialist' [13] which apart from the implication that only walking calculating machines are fit to be socialists and despite the sneer that Engels intended, grasps the essential element in Morris's thought. For Morris generalized his experience of everyday life and the result was socialism expressed with great simplicity, strength and emotional conviction. He had worked to produce beautiful things in a world which mocked his efforts by its indifferent ugliness. He was steeped in the crafts and skills which had existed in a world where casual beauty had been a part of all work - no matter how hard and brutal that world had been. For the world remained hard and brutal but it had changed work and 'destroyed art, the one certain solace of labour ( ... ) All this I felt then as now, but I did not know why it was so.' [14] He wrote later :

The hope of the past times was gone, the struggles of mankind for many ages had produced nothing but this sordid, aimless, ugly confusion; the immediate future seemed to me likely to intensify all the present evils, by sweeping away the last survivals of the days before the dull squalor of civilization had settled down on the world ( ... ) Think of it !Was it all to end in a counting-house on the top of a cinder heap ( ... ) But the consciousness of revolution stirring among our hateful modern society prevented me, luckier than many others of artistic perceptions, from crystallizing into a mere railer against 'progress' on the one hand, and on the other from wasting time and energy in any of the numerous schemes by which the quasi-artistic of the middle classes hope to make art grow where it has no longer any root, and thus I became a practical Socialist.

The real and general ugliness of the society around him led him to try and find real and general solutions. He had a personal need for a society within which his work would be meaningful and described it : 'a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master's man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers, nor heartsick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition and would manage their affairs un-wastefully and with a full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all - the realization at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH.'

With an equal simplicity he describes the process of becoming a 'practical socialist' :

Now this view of Socialism, which I hold today, and hope to die holding, is what I began with; I had no transitional period, unless you may call such a brief period of political radicalism during which I saw my ideal clear enough, but had no hope of any realization of it. That came to an end some months before I joined the Democratic Federation, and the meaning of my joining that body was that I had conceived a hope of the realization of my ideal ( ... ) Well, having joined a Socialist body ( ... ) I put some conscience into trying to learn the economical side of Socialism and even tackled Marx, though I must confess that whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the historical part of Capital, I suffered agonies of confusion of the brain over reading the pure economics of that great work. Anyway I read what I could, and will hope that some information stuck to me from my reading; but more I must think, from continuous conversation with such friends as Bax and Hyndman and Scheu, and the brisk course of propaganda meetings which were going on at the time, and in which I took my share.

He was at other times to be more dismissive of Marxist economics : 'I have tried to understand Marx's theory but political economy is not in my line and much of it appears to me to be dreary rubbish. But I am, I hope, a Socialist none the less. It is enough political economy for me to know that the idle class is rich, and the working class is poor. That I know because I see it with my own eyes. I need read no books to convince me of it. And it does not matter a rap, it seems to me, whether the robbery is accomplished by what is termed surplus value or by means of serfage or open brigandage.' [15] This is not quoted to score points against Marx or Marxists but rather to emphasize the basis of Morris's socialism in experience. This he shared with the working class militants like Lane and Kitz who were later to become his colleagues in the Socialist League. Socialism for these latter militants grew out of the experience of poverty and exploitation. For Morris it grew out of a life-work made meaningless in the face of the world. He was middle-class and comfortably off, which produced the symptoms of guilt so often found in middle-class socialists. But at core his socialism was not an acquired belief at odds with his life but a generalization from everyday life. In Hyndman and Bax we can see the signs of expertise treated as an indication of personal worth. They were professional socialists in the sense that a lawyer or accountant is professional. In Morris this was not the case, his socialism represents a growth of self and an urgent personal need for the reintegration of man and the world and the restructuring of a disastrously fragmented society.

William Morris took a full part in the propaganda work connected with the Federation. His subject matter in this early period was always connected with the major reason for his conversion to socialism, the immense difficulty or even impossibility of reconciling art with capitalism. In various forms he spelled out his message to debating societies, to Radical clubs, to literary and philosophical societies and to little groups of socialists. He also began to speak at the open-air meetings which the Federation started in 1883, following the example of the Labour Emancipation League. No one could claim that the message he preached set England aflame in 1883 and 1884; but it is evident that Morris, though at times discouraged, used this time to work out the implications of his socialism. Meanwhile the Federation made advances. In early 1884 Morris and Hyndman went to Blackburn (where MacDonald and Williams had been sent as agitators) to address 1,500 strikers in the cotton industry. The meeting was a great success and a branch of the Federation was set up with 100 members. In April 1883 Hyndman debated on socialism with Bradlaugh at a large public meeting - Bradlaugh opposing. As we have seen, the secular societies were very open to new ideas. The publicity attendant on this debate was considerable and certainly started a number of secularists on the road to socialism. [16] Justice, the paper of the Federation, started publication in January 1884 and further increased the open-air propaganda effort, since its distribution 'had mainly to rely on sales at meetings' [17] But as the propaganda began to move ahead, dissensions appeared within the Federation not on general principles or on the analysis of capitalist society but on the means to be used to overthrow it.

At the meeting held to announce the founding of Justice there was an open clash on the question of parliamentary representation. James Murray moved a resolution outlining a 'socialism via parliament' programme. To this an amendment was put urging that the 'time for palaver has passed by', the working class could not rely on Parliament to better their condition and 'all means were justifiable to attain the end in view'. Morris seems to have taken a fairly prominent part in this discussion according to his own account - on the anti-parliamentary side. The debate 'was throughout energetic and at times heated'. Andreas Scheu, holding anti-parliamentarian views, clashed noisily with Charles Varenholtz, a supporter of the German Social Democrats. The whole issue did not come to a vote and the chairman managed to paper over the cracks. [18] It certainly showed, however, that the question was already being discussed in the Federation early in its existence and clearly foreshadowed the later split.

In fact the Democratic Federation had signed a 'Manifesto to the Working Men of the World' which was issued by eleven groupings in London, both native and foreign, in 1883. Some of the signatories were Anarchists and their influence shows in such phrases as : 'Governments, no matter of what party, are but the instruments of [ruling] classes and under different disguises of judges and police, priests or hangmen, use their strength and energies to support the monopolies and privileges of the exploiters ( ... )'And again : 'Experience disperses illusions of those who have believed in Governments and Laws.' [19] Anti-political sentiments were clearly quite widespread in the movement.

But the dispute over strategy was made more difficult by inter-personal difficulties which were exacerbated rather than diminished as the organization grew. As Morris wrote later : 'When I first knew of the Fed. It really almost consisted of Mr H. and a few agents of his working under his direction : but then independent men came into it who worked very heartily in the cause and who could not submit to be under his despotism.' [20] Scheu, as we have already seen, together with Belfort Bax and a young disciple of Scheu's, Robert Banner, were particularly irked by Hyndman's authoritarianism.

In the late spring and summer of 1884 Scheu was urging Morris to make a bid for the leadership of the Federation against Hyndman or to attempt to split the organization. Morris was at first reluctant and more inclined to try and patch things up, but as the August Annual Conference approached his attitude began to change. He wrote to Scheu in July : '( ... ) if I have any influence amongst our party ( ... ) it is because I am supposed to be straight and not ambitious ( ... ) and feel sure that any appearance of pushing myself forward would injure my influence, such as it is, very much; therefore I will not secede for any matter of mere tactics ( ... ) but if I find myself opposed on a matter of principle ( ... ) I will secede if I am driven to it.' He felt incapable of leading such a split though he promised support for any such move on the grounds given and further promised 'steadily to oppose all jingo business'. He was worried since he had not 'got hold' [sic] of the 'strings that tie us to the working class members; nor have I read as I should have. Also my habits are quiet and studious and if I am too much worried by 'politics', i.e. intrigue, I shall be no use to the cause as a writer ( ... )'. But he finished firmly : 'If I am pushed into a position of more importance, I will not refuse it from mere laziness or softness.' [21] This does not seem to have been written in the context of a general revolt against Hyndman, however, since he talks of secession in the context of joining 'any men if they be only two or three, or only yourself to push the real cause'. But a majority for Scheu and Morris's position was to come from a rather unexpected quarter - the Labour Emancipation League.

As we have seen, after attending the founding conference of the Federation, Lane and his comrades had gone back to the East End to carry on with their own chosen political work. Lane had no high opinion of the Federation and there seems to have been some element of dismissiveness in the Federation's attitude to the League. Lane said : 'They were very jealous of us but at the same time called us Anarchist. And why? Just because we charged no entrance fee and no monthly contributions but carried out the doctrine "from everybody according to their ability". And the poorer they were the more we wanted them to join, not to keep them out because of their poverty.' [22] There had been some contact, however, since Hyndman and one or two other members of the Federation occasionally visited the League speaking pitch on Mile End Waste.

As the August 1884 conference of the Federation drew nearer, Hyndman again approached Lane and asked him to attend. Lane said that they had their own work to do. Hyndman 'said he thought we ought to because their country branches would sure to be reactionary'. Lane then proposed to send a delegate, but Hyndman replied "'Oh, one is no use, you ought to send two or three from each branch".' After some discussion Lane finally agreed and elections were held to send 'three from each branch but no arrangements or a word said as to what they were to do when they got there'. Hyndman's motives in inviting the League can be guessed at. Confident as to his dominating position in the Federation, he was concerned to push forward those country branches that remained fundamentally Radical rather than socialist. He had seen the forceful Joe Lane in action before and he had also seen him withdraw from the fray once an organization was saddled with 'the most advanced programme [Lane] could force on them'. It would also seem that as the opposition to Hyndman centred on Morris, Bax and Scheu - all middle-class men who had 'not got hold of the strings' connecting the working-class members - and as Hyndman's attitude to working-class militants was patronizing and rather dismissive, he had not considered the possibility of Lane and the League having a mind different from his own. More particularly, he obviously did not consider the possibility of the League cooperating with his opponents. This was a considerable miscalculation.

Three or four days before the conference Lane was invited to a meeting at Morris's house to discuss the forthcoming event. Lane took little part in the discussion. However, by the time the discussion broke up the last train had gone and Lane stayed the night. The next day Scheu arrived as a delegate from Edinburgh. Scheu asked Lane about the business arrangements for the conference and for Lane's opinions generally. Lane says:

I told him I did not know the official business but for myself I did not believe Gods or Devils, Kings or Emperors [and] I did not believe in permanent Presidents in Democratic organisations and that my first business was to put an end to Hyndman's Permanent Presidency and that every member of the Council should preside at Council meetings in rotation. He said he agreed with it and would second my resolution but we should not carry it ( ... ) what else ? I said I was going to propose our Emancipation League programme item by item and that when we started we forced them as far as we could ( ... ) it was time that [a] mere political programme should be superseded. [23] He agreed and said he would second my resolution but that their branches were so reactionary we should never carry that. I said we would. Then he asked about other things and about the future members of the Council. I gave him all the names except my own which he would insist on including. I thought I could do better work in the East End. In the afternoon Bob Banner came to Morris. He was coming to Conference as delegate from Woolwich so we had it all over again. He agreed to support. So the whole thing was hatched on the lawn at Morris's house but so far as I was concerned Morris did not know a thing about it.

The conference went much as Joe Lane had predicted. It adopted the L.E.L. programme in a simplified form - it was ironic, in Joe Lane's later view, that this left out the demand for freedom of speech and assembly. The name of the organization was changed to the Social Democratic Federation ( S.D.F. ). The conference voted against fighting parliamentary elections - though for some delegates it was a pragmatic rather than a principled opposition. And it voted against the permanent presidency of Hyndman. This Hyndman did not like at all. No wonder Lane still showed rather a tendency to crow about it many years later : 'when I proposed a thing up went all the hands of all those delegates that Hyndman wished sent. Talk about Bombs ! The Hyndman party was so taken by surprise that they would say nothing until after the conference was over. Then at the tea party afterwards they formed little groups and talked things and looked at me so black as though I had done or said something rude ( ... ).' The council elected at the conference was composed of Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Banner, Champion, J. Cooper, Amy Hicks, Mr and Mrs Hyndman, Joe Lane, Morris, Quelch, Bax, H. Burrows, W. J. Clark, R. P. B. Frost, Joynes, Sam Mainwaring, James Murray and Jack Williams. Joe Lane and Sam Mainwaring were definitely L.E.L. members and some of the others were too. These people, together with the Avelings ( Eleanor Marx was Aveling's partner in a 'free relationship' ), Morris, Bax and Banner, formed the opposition to Hyndman. Champion, Quelch, Burrows and Williams were the more prominent supporters of the former permanent president.

The next six months in the life of the Council were wretched. An escalation of feuding, backbiting and intrigue led to spasm war by Christmas 1884. Joe Lane later claimed that the political question behind it all was whether the S.D.F. should go in for parliamentary elections or not. Other accounts make it clear that this issue rather got lost in the pro- or anti-Hyndman battle. [24] In the first meeting of the council after the conference, Hyndman made it clear that he was in no mood to be demoted. He was subject to a cutting counter-attack by Joe Lane and an attempt to have him reinstated failed. It was probably the realization that Hyndman could not and would not work in any organization he did not control that finally braced Morris for the coming split. He wrote in August : 'The time which I have foreseen from the first seems to be upon us, and I don't see how I can avoid taking my share in the internal conflict which seems likely to rend the D.F. into two or more. More than two or three of us distrust Hyndman thoroughly; I have done my best to trust him, but cannot any longer. Practically it comes to a contest between him and me.' [25]

The finale was played out on 27 December 1884. At a noisy meeting packed with Hyndman supporters - the L.E.L. being excluded because although it had affiliated to the S.D.F. it had preserved its autonomy and paid no dues - the Hyndman group was roundly defeated on a vote taken by the council members. Morris then read out a statement in which the victorious members of the council withdrew from the Federation. This represented a refusal to follow up their victory by expulsions and further strife and caused no little surprise. It was fundamentally Morris's idea and probably represented both a continuation of the feelings he had when his 'party' had been in the minority and a more recent desire to wash his hands of the whole business. Morris hated intrigue and personality clashes 'to the point of cowardice', as E. P. Thompson remarks. And though the S.D.F. had grown in 1884 it still only had perhaps 400 members in London and perhaps 100 in the provinces. With energy and the Labour Emancipation League ( and without Hyndman ) the new body that was formed - the Socialist League - could well make good its initial disadvantage.

Although the Socialist League emerged from the split in the S.D.F. in a state of some confusion, the mood was one of confidence and relief. The importance of anti-parliamentarianism for a section of the seceders meant that the new organization both largely represented this tendency and attracted those of a like mind. But its origins in the fierce struggle against the 'despotism' of Hyndman also meant that a parliamentary faction had seceded. This was not to cause open and destructive dissension in the Socialist League immediately. The differences were apparent from the beginning, however. A draft constitution by the Avelings - as a result of the prompting of Engels in the background - was accepted by the council of the Socialist League shortly after the split. [26] It committed the League to 'Striving to conquer political power by promoting the election of Socialists to Local Governments, School Boards and other administrative bodies.' This draft was rejected at the first annual conference of the League in July 1885.

Two other documents issued at this time were more important, both in terms of their contents and their more accurate expression of the politics of the League. These were firstly the circular To Socialists, which explained the reasons for the split, and the Manifesto of the Socialist League. The former largely consisted of an exposition in a rather dignified sort of way of the difficulties of working with Hyndman. But it was clear in its attitude to the politics of the time and shares the same view as the Manifesto. A socialist body, it says '( ... ) in the present state of things has no function but to educate the people in the principles of Socialism and to organise such as it can get hold of [sic] to take their due places when the crisis shall come that will force action on us. We believe to hold out as baits hopes of the amelioration of the condition of the workers, to be wrung out of the necessities of the rival factions of our privileged rulers, is delusive and mischievous.' There had been in the S.D.F. 'a tendency to political opportunism, which if developed would have involved us in alliances, however temporary, with one or other of the political factions and would have weakened our propagandist force by driving us into electioneering and possibly would have deprived us of some of our most energetic men by sending them to our sham parliament, there to become either nonentities, or perhaps our masters and it may be our betrayers'.

The Manifesto of the Socialist League puts the antiparliamentary position in its correct perspective. It is neither mere prejudice nor a cowardly refusal to become involved. It speaks of the economic exploitation of the producers by the possessing class and the ceaseless conflict between them : 'Sometimes it takes the form of open rebellion, sometimes of strikes, sometimes of mere widespread mendicancy and crime; but it is always going on in one form or another, though it may not be obvious to the thoughtless looker on.' But the competition was not only between classes but also within classes and between nations. Shoddy goods smothered the 'civilized' and 'uncivilized' world alike, the motor of working-class degradation in production and consumption, and the motor of imperialism. 'This must be altered from the foundation ( ... ) all means of production of wealth ( ... ) must be declared and treated as the common property of all.' In this way the worker would receive the full value of his labour and the essential work of the world 'would be reduced to something like two or three hours daily'. In this way workers would be relieved of 'sordid anxieties' and their real communal tendencies could emerge. 'Only by such fundamental changes in the life of man, only by the transformation of Civilization into Socialism can these miseries of the world before mentioned be amended.' It continued:

As to mere politics, Absolutism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism have all been tried in our day and under our present social system and all have alike failed in dealing with the real evils of life ( ... ).

No better solution would be that State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation : no number of administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any approach to Socialism ( ... ).

Close fellowship with each other and steady purpose for the advancement of the Cause will naturally bring about the organisation and discipline amongst ourselves absolutely necessary to success; but we shall look to it that there shall be no distinctions of rank or dignity amongst us to give opportunities for the selfish ambition of leadership which has so often injured the cause of the workers. We are working for equality and brotherhood for all the world and it is only through equality and brotherhood that we can make our work effective.

The Manifesto is a beautiful document. Socialism is seen as social being, not as an administrative form. The envisaged change in society is fundamental and will come about through the 'crisis that shall force action on us'. Socialist education will expedite that change through those socialists who 'will take their due places'. But though this special role for conscious socialists might imply a group apart the 'selfish ambition of leadership' is particularly denounced. ( What Morris, whose work the Manifesto is, was probably thinking of was selfless leadership. ) The document, if not Anarchist, is clearly libertarian in its commitment to revolution, its view of the role of socialist groups and its deprecation of state and party hierarchy.

The Manifesto was signed by some people in addition to those who had seceded from the S.D.F. - two of them being Frank Kitz and Charles Mowbray. Working together as part of the 'English Revolutionary Society' in its various shapes and forms, they had watched the difficulties within the Federation with sardonic detachment. They had set up a print-shop in Mowbray's house in the notorious Boundary Street slum, issuing antimilitary and anti-rent propaganda and placarding the East End with 'incendiary manifestoes'. They had also been speaking round the clubs and working in conjunction with the L.E.L. When the Socialist League was formed, however, Kitz says:

its purely propagandist and non-Parliamentary objects ( ... ) appealed to our members and we joined at once. We found, however, that the demands upon our scanty leisure were too great to allow us to attend to both the printing group and the League and we finally decided to merge our work into the League's, with its possibility of a wider field of propaganda.

True to our anti-rent campaign, we owed some rent to the landlord of our 'printery'. At the final meeting of our group a heated debate took place as to the best method of settling this liability some arguing in favour of cash payment and others for payment in kind. Finally it was decided to liquidate our indebtedness to the slum landlord by leaving him our ink-slab ( the previously mentioned paving stone ) as being akin to his own heart. [27]

When Kitz joined the Socialist League it was the first time he and Morris had met. Morris wrote of him : 'Like most of our East-Enders, he is certainly somewhat tinged with anarchism or perhaps one may say destructivism; but I like him very much : I called on the poor chap at the place where he lived and it fairly gave me the horrors to see how wretchedly off he was; so it isn't much to wonder at that he takes the line he does.' [28] In February 1885 the Socialist League secretary, J. L. Mahon, was writing to Kitz as 'Secretary of the Workman's Propagandist Committee' thanking him for the offer of two founts of type and other printing equipment for the use of the League.

At the same time Lane was taking steps to integrate the L.E.L. with the Socialist League. From his accounts later it appears both how much the existence of that body depended on his prodigious energies and how much his involvement in the S.D.F. Council had undermined his work in the East End. 'I made one fatal mistake in allowing myself to go on their Council. That commenced the break-up of all the work we had done in the East End. If we had done as we had done before, just driven them as far as we could and then left them, then we should have had a very strong organisation in the East End of Anti-State Socialists.' [29] When the Socialist League was formed, as far as the L.E.L. was concerned 'if not dropped, the life was taken out of it. I handed over all my Printing plant [and] leaflets over to [the] League and gave my whole time to it. I am very sorry, I can see now if we had kept to our own L.E.L. we should have been alright.' [30] But this was written with the benefit of hindsight. In May 1885 he was circulating members of the Mile End branch in Mile End and Stratford with a view to forming branches of the Socialist League in both places. The Hoxton branch had decided to retain its autonomy as the L.E.L. though it remained affiliated to the Socialist League. [31]

Generally the Socialist League seems to have begun well. John Turner, soon to become involved with the Freedom Group, wrote later that he joined the Socialist League immediately it was formed. He was already a 'convinced Socialist but having been a young freethinking Radical Republican I had the usual Radical suspicious aversion to Hyndman'. This 'usual Radical suspicious aversion to Hyndman' might explain part of the success of the Socialist League. It certainly went some way to encourage the accession of branches in Scotland and Yorkshire. The clarity of the League Manifesto in comparison with the S.D.F. material led the socialists of Norwich, whose leading light was a young man called F. C. Slaughter ( later known as Fred Charles ), to form themselves into a Socialist League branch. In London, apart from the accession of the L.E.L. and the English Revolutionary Society, there was increasing interest in the new anti-parliamentary body on the part of foreign exiled Anarchists. Wess, later of the Freedom Group, was in regular contact with the Socialist League from March 1885 onwards, writing from a Jewish 'working men's educational and mutual relief society' in Whitechapel which formed a club in Berners Street in 1886. The Socialist League was strongly represented at its opening. Exiles were also represented in the branches. The North London branch formed in June 1885 included among its members a German anti-parliamentarian, Henry Charles; Victor Dave ( a Belgian Anarchist who had been involved in clandestine propaganda in Germany for Most and had been arrested there and jailed for two and a half years in 1881 ); and Trunk who had worked on the Freiheit and was a member of the St Stephens Mews club. Other members of this branch included David Nicoll, Scheu and Mahon.

Such links with the exiled Anarchist community were strengthened by the protests organized after the police raid on the German Anarchist 'International Club', St Stephens Mews, Rathbone Place. At a meeting attended by delegates from the clubs - though not in the strength that had been promised - Frank Kitz described what had happened. The members had been going about their business on the night of 9 May 1885, when 'without any previous notice an attack is made on the windows and doors. Upon opening them and seeing not only police but a large crowd they appealed to the former for protection and the answer from a sergeant was "We will protect you D_ foreigners with the Staff" and police and crowd surged into the club ( ... ) many of the members were wounded and streaming with blood and some will carry the marks received to their graves. Police and public alike, the latter mostly contained police in plain clothes carried off Beer in jars, forms, papers, books and money not even stopping at the members clothes.' [32]

The area of north Soho in which the Club was situated was an area with a very large immigrant population, mainly of Germans, French and Italians. The police riot at St Stephens Mews is largely explicable by the chauvinist hatred of foreigners to be found in immigrant areas and accentuated in authoritarian bodies such as the police. But though the members of the club were foreigners they were also foreign socialists; the raid was also undoubtedly connected with the general difficulties made by the police over socialist propaganda. In 1885 there was increasing harassment of open-air meetings held by socialists.

In August Kitz was arrested for obstruction at Stratford, London, but his case was dismissed. At about the same time the S.D.F. were suffering constant police harassment at their meetings at Dod Street, Limehouse. A number of people were arrested and fined for 'obstruction' at meetings held on Sundays at a place then deserted by vehicle traffic. Jack Williams made a stand and refusing to pay a fine was sent to prison for a month. The Socialist League offered its assistance and together with the S.D.F. and some Radical clubs formed a Vigilance Committee. This called a large meeting at Dod Street on Sunday, 20 September, where Kitz and Mahon spoke for the League. As the meeting was breaking up it was suddenly attacked by the police with considerable brutality. Eight people were arrested, including Mowbray, Mahon, Kitz and Lewis Lyons, a Jewish tailoring worker and S.D.F. member. The police attack had infuriated the Radicals who really began to get to work. The subsequent court case brought wider publicity.

The magistrate, Saunders, was completely hostile to the arrested men. After a short and farcical trial in which the police perjured themselves black, seven of the men were fined forty shillings with the option of a month while Lewis Lyons - the only Jew - was sent to prison for two months. This caused a great uproar from the socialists in the court whom the police then proceeded to attack. In the fracas they arrested William Morris, which was a mistake. Saunders, who obviously had no idea who his famous gentleman prisoner was, let him off with a caution. Morris was greeted outside the court by a cheering crowd. This incident brought the full glare of publicity on to both the magistrate and the free-speech fight. ( One illustrated magazine had a picture of Saunders tearfully blacking Morris's boots. ) The result was a massive meeting on the site the following Sunday with perhaps as many as 50,000 there. The police did not bother the meeting - or indeed any subsequent ones. The battle for free speech at Dod Street had been won.

It is necessary to stress how important such free-speech fights were for the new movement. Socialists were small in numbers and no matter how energetic or determined their agitation in other directions they needed the streets as a forum if socialism was to spread rapidly. Such occasions as Dod Street did bring them publicity. But the primary purpose of the meetings was to spread the word and they preferred them unharassed. At meetings they could sell literature and distribute leaflets. Discussions could take place in a freer atmosphere than that provided by the debate structure imposed by the Sunday meetings at the Radical clubs. In this way they acted as a kind of popular socialist university - though sometimes it was a violent one. Jack Williams carried a scar to his grave after being hit by a bottle hurled at him during a meeting. Opposition ( 'fair-traders', heavies hired by the Tory or Liberal Party, militant temperance advocates or Christians ) would often disturb a meeting with more than words. Platforms were 'cleared' not infrequently - that is to say rushed and another speaker more to the taste of the attackers substituted. But in more placid moments the street meetings provided an unofficial popular education. This is a later account but accurately gives the spirit of these occasions:

A secularist speaker received more abuse than sensible criticism but I learned from him the crushing effect of satire, where reasonable argument was futile. I also learned the art of heckling at these meetings; not the foolish obstructionist kind that merely plays into the hands of the speaker but that which turns observation to the advantage of the opposition. By an interjection at the right moment a speaker could be thrown right off the rails and much amusement caused by rhetorical catastrophes.

'If you want to know what the Conservative Party have done for the working-man look-- '
'--inside the workhouse.' ( Interjection )
'British working men are being thrown out of jobs by foreign dumping. If we tax these imports the workers will --'
'-- pay.' ( Interjection )

But the most enlightening moments were spent among the little groups of thinkers who carried on discussions with all the earnestness of a philosopher's council chamber. One subject merged into another, which gave an opportunity for the quidnuncs of economics to hold the torch until it was grabbed by an acolyte of the 'higher criticism' or by an apostle of the 'astral plane'. In the pallid glare of the lamps stood men and women of all stations of life, mufflered and collared, dapper and dowdy, listening with either credulous or critical mentality to the arguments, and ready to brighten their faces at the slightest joke and to appreciate the verbal contest of verbal erudition. And if there was no all-night sitting at that public parliament, it was more because of legal restrictions than want of enthusiasm for most of the members stayed till the rising of the 'House' before sauntering away in little groups, when voices and footsteps faded into the night and a happy truce was called for another seven days. [33]

But the victory at Dod Street did not mean that free speech was then automatically ensured in London or the rest of the country. Free-speech fights were a regular feature of socialist propaganda in the 1880s and 1890s. However, after Dod Street there were no particularly odious oppressions of public speaking until the 'dangerous influence' of socialism made itself apparent in the West End Riots. The winter of 1885-6 was a period of high unemployment and great misery. But the mood of the unemployed was not one of resignation, as is too often the case. The occasion of an S.D.F. unemployed counter-demonstration to a Tory 'fair trade' meeting in Trafalgar Square in February 1886 provided the spark. Militant - even blustering - speeches were made by Burns, Hyndman, Williams and Champion together with Sparling of the Socialist League. According to some sources, gentlemen wearing top hats in the Square had them snatched from their heads and some of the gentlemen were thrown in the fountains. The fair traders were attacked and their platform broken up. Engels alleged that many of the unemployed were drunk - an obvious indication to him that they were lumpen-proletarians and not fit for the revolution. The mood of the crowd was pugnacious in any case. The organizers, seeing that shifting the crowd from the Square would be difficult, decided to march them to Hyde Park and then disperse.

Their route, however, took them past the upper-class clubs in St James's. Here the crowd raised a general hooting and jeering. The procession stopped and Burns and others spoke to the crowd outside the Carlton, the Reform, etc. There were counter-jeers and things were thrown at them from the clubs. The reply was a barrage from the crowd. It was said that one man started it : 'A poorly-clad hungry-looking man, tore from his ragged breast an Egyptian war medal which he had been wearing. He forced himself in a frenzy of anger into a prominent position and addressing the members of the Carlton who were looking at him with surprised expectancy he shouted "We were not the scum of the country when we were fighting for bond-holders in Egypt, you dogs !".' [34] He hurled his medal at the window of the club and smashed it. The crowd then picked up loose building material which was lying around and proceeded to throw it through the windows of the clubs. They then proceeded to smash the windows of surrounding shops which were then looted. This carried on while the main procession marched off to Hyde Park. Here the demonstration petered out after carriages had been wrecked and the livery had been stripped from servants. It had been an explosion of working-class anger rather than a socialist demonstration, illustrated by the fact that sections of the crowd marched back to the East End singing 'Rule Britannia'!

There were several results. Large unemployment demonstrations took place in a number of towns and there was rioting in Leicester. There was a remarkable and sudden concern for the welfare of the unemployed on the part of the upper classes. Public works were set up and charitable funds for the unemployed grew by leaps and bounds. For several days the panic among respectable people was almost indescribable. As Morris pointed out in the Commonweal, the Socialist League paper, the strategy inspired by this panic had two sides. First there were 'some palliative measures'. On the other hand they could expect selective repression of 'ring-leaders'. Burns, Hyndman, Williams and Champion were arrested ( to be eventually acquitted ). More generally the authorities began what looked like a systematic attack on socialist meetings. The police made repeated assaults on a demonstration in Hyde Park later in February. As the weather improved and the various open-air speaking pitches were reopened there began a steady stream of prosecutions for 'obstruction'. In July 1886 we find Mowbray and Lane attending a meeting of the Metropolitan Radical Federation, trying - unsuccessfully - to drum up support for Socialist League speakers who were being harassed at the Grove, Stratford, Bell Street, Edgware Road and at the 'Bricklayers Arms', Kilburn. Nigger minstrels and Christian preachers were not interfered with and boys were being paid by the police to obstruct the meetings, it was claimed. [35] The unhelpful attitude of the Radicals is explainable both by the West End Riot, which offended the more respectable, and the socialist candidates put up by the S.D.F. in November 1885. The latter adventure had been a farcical failure, but it had obviously irked the Radicals who looked upon the working-class vote as their own private property.

The pitch at Bell Street became the scene of sustained struggle for the right to speak in the streets. After the first case of obstruction at the site, Mainwaring of the League and Jack Williams of the S.D.F. spoke to a large meeting on 11 July. Both were summonsed and sent for trial at a higher court. Between the two hearings Morris went to the site and spoke, though he knew he risked prison. He was summonsed but in the event, being a gentleman, he was fined one shilling ! Mainwaring and Williams, who were both workers, were fined twenty pounds. Williams refused to pay and went to prison for two months. And though as a result of these prosecutions the Marylebone Branch decided to leave the Bell Street pitch, another was opened immediately which remained more or less unmolested. Morris's intervention in the struggle had resulted in publicity, as at Dod Street. Morris felt his name was worth using if it helped block attempts to 'clear the streets of costermongers, organs, processions and lecturers of all kinds and make them a sort of decent prison corridor, with people just trudging to and from their work'. [36] But it was the determination of the rank and file to keep their speaking pitches that won through. It was now impossible for the police to close every speaking pitch without Draconian measures and massive repression and they probably became uncomfortably aware of the counter-productive results of the efforts they did make. The movement was growing and this kind of repression fanned the flames rather than doused them.

The mood at this time is given by an observer : 'It is undeniable that a very deep seated spirit of discontent was very widespread ( ... ) and that it was fostered by agitators who saw no other road to profit and prominence at the time - and rendered dangerous by unbridled language in the highest degree reprehensible. The English extremists advocated what they termed the Social Revolution and at street corners, in public places and elsewhere, when a crowd of working men and loafers could be mustered, they were invariably asked to give "three cheers for the Social Revolution" and it must be admitted that they responded in greater numbers and greater enthusiasm as this dangerous movement progressed.' [37] This widespread and developing discontent was conditioned by events. First there had been political discontent in the Radical milieu over the Liberal government's backsliding in the relatively prosperous period of 1881-3. Political discontent had combined with material misery in the harsh period of high unemployment of 1884-6. The combativeness and bitterness of this period were to develop and carry over into the more prosperous years of 1889-90, when a burst of organizing was to take advantage of the favourable 'terms of trade' for labour. [38] It was in 1885-6, poised at the point of take-off of the working-class movement that the first Anarchist papers were published in England.

No one knows how political ideas seize the imagination of masses of people. If they did our world would look even rougher than it does. So much can be said about 'objective economic conditions' but we still only have explanations after the event. The self-confident analysts of the past have proved to be lousy predictors of the future. Whatever the mechanism, however, that body of ideas summed up by the word 'socialism' rapidly struck root. In the ten years between 1885 and 1895 socialists changed from being a few foreigners and cranks of no consequence to a deadly danger or the wave of the future according to taste. Yet where did socialist ideas come from ? A few weekly or monthly papers of small circulation; a few meetings addressed in clubs or on street corners; and when we consider the mounds of rival journals and the hordes of rival street-corner speakers it seems little short of miraculous that socialist ideas were heard, let alone taken up and acted upon. So when we now consider the affairs of a few Anarchist papers it is for their potential energy as much as for their immediate impact. The latter, initially, was not great.

[1] Frank Kitz, Freedom, April 1912. Following quotes from Kitz from same source.

[2] Lane memoirs. Subsequent Lane quotes from same source.

[3] Lee and Archbold, op. cit. p. 44.

[4] ibid., p. 42.

[5] Marx, letter of 11 April 1881.

[6] Marx to Sorge, letter of 15 December 1881, op. cit., p. 397.

[7] Lee and Archbold, op. cit., p. 51. The stepping-stone programme remained the only programme of the Federation until the surprises of the 1884 conference.

[8] See quote in Thompson, op.cit., p. 344.

[9] See Marx to Sorge, letter of 5 November 1880, 'In any event Moist has performed the good service of having brought together all the ranters -Andreas Scheu, Hasselman - as a group.'

[10] See Thompson, op. cit., and Carlson, op. cit.

[11] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 321.

[12] Thompson, op. cit, p. 355.

[13] Engels to Sorge, letter of 29 April 1886.

[14] William Morris, 'How I Became a Socialist', Justice, 16 June 1894.

[15] Answer to a question at a meeting, quoted by J. B. Glasier, William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, London, 1921, pp. 21-2.

[16] Two examples are Edward Aveling in London and Thomas Barclay in Leicester.

[17] Lee and Archbold, op. cit., p. 58.

[18] ibid., p. 57.

[19] Manifesto reproduced in Bulletin of Society for Study of Labour History, No. 14, Spring 1967.

[20] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 396.

[21] Letters of William Morris, Philip Henderson ( ed. ), London, 1950, pp. 203-4.

[22] Lane memoirs. Punctuation added.

[23] Lane is here referring to the 'stepping stones'. See note 7.

[24] E. P. Thompson argues this case persuasively.

[25] The letter was written after the conference and the first meeting of the new council.

[26] See Thompson, op. cit., p. 448, for Engels's activities here.

[27] Frank Kitz, Freedom, April 1912.

[28] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 444.

[29] Letter, Lane to Barker.

[30] Lane memoirs.

[31] Mile End, Stratford and Hoxton branches; material in Socialist League archive, I.I.S.H.

[32] MS. minutes, S.L. archive.

[33] Garrett, Man in the Street, London, p. 141. My thanks to Anna Davin for this reference.

[34] P. Latouche, Anarchy !, London, 1908, p.78.

[35] Club and Institute Journal, 17 July 1886.

[36] William Morris, Commonweal, 31 July 1886.

[37] Latouche, op. cit., pp. 46-7.

[38] See movement of unemployment figures in Chronology.