Socialism in the United Kingdom: The Early 20th Century

Socialism in the United Kingdom has been a notable, if not always especially prominent, feature of the country’s political landscape since the late nineteenth-century. It first appeared in the country in the aftermath of the English Civil War (regarded by many Marxists as a bourgeois revolution against the working class), when numerous groups advocating for political and social reform first emerged. These groups, which included the Levellers and the Diggers, advocated for radical changes to society, demanding the realization of goals such as popular sovereignty, equality before the law, and religious tolerance, and thus formed a proto-socialist current in English political thought.

Following the Industrial Revolution, which saw brutal working conditions imposed on laborers (many of them children) by factory owners and other industrialists, socialist thought began to develop into different strands within the United Kingdom. Robert Owen, a Welsh textile manufacturer, was an early proponent of reform of Britain’s industrial system, and his work led to the development of trade unions, for example the Grant National Consolidated Trades Union, a large national union that was instrumental in the country's early history of organized labor. Other strands of socialist thought and organization followed, including Marxism and the birth of the Labour Party.

The pamphlets in this collection contain arguments both for and against socialist thought and action in the U.K., covering viewpoints from the Marxist perspective, from the Labour Party and the affiliated Independent Labour Party, and from anti-socialist advocates of free maket economics. Included are tracts published by reverends and anonymous communists, by reforming socialists and unrepentant radicals. These works are both historically interesting and relevant to ongoing political struggles and movements today, echoing ongoing tensions between the right and the left, the reformist and the radical.

Not all of the digitized pamphlets in this collection are included in this exhibit's pages. To view the complete collection of digitized pamphlets, please visit the link below.

Citation: Goodale, Ian, curator. (2020). Socialism in the U.K.: The Early 20th Century.

Further Reading:

Bevir, Mark. The Making of British Socialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Brand, Carl Fremont. The British Labour Party, a Short History. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Bruce, Steve. Politics and Religion in the United Kingdom. London; New York: Routledge, 2012.

Smith, Evan and Worley, Matthew. Against the Grain: the British Far Left from 1956. Manchester, UK; New York: Manchester University Press, 2014.