Nationalism, Racialism and Early British Socialism
by RICHARD LAWSON
Modern socialists would be highly embarrassed to learn of the nationalist and racialist attitudes displayed by many early British socialists.
Prominent among these was Robert Blatchford, editor of a newspaper entitled The Clarion, and author of Merrie England (1893) and Britain for the British (1902). (A facsimile reproduction of Merrie England was issued in 1976 by the journeyman Press, from which the following quotations are taken).
Bob Blatchford advocated a form of non-Marxian socialism which he supported by an appeal to ethics and common sense. His ideas relating to communal kitchens and the like are rather quaint by modern standards of affluence and privacy, but it must be remembered that when Blatchford was writing in the 1890s large sections of the British working-class were condemned to grinding poverty and degradation.
It is obvious from Blatchford's writings that his military training had conditioned him to attempt to apply the solutions of war to the problems of peace. A parallel between a military society and a socialist one has been drawn before, and Blatchford's approach was to be echoed by the nationalist movements which blossomed all over Europe in the 1920s and 30s.
What concerns us here, however, is Blatchford's obvious patriotism, his awareness of the biological realities of life, and-as modern socialists would term it-his "racial prejudice. " Blatchford was, for example, an enthusiastic advocate of British naval supremacy and a bitter opponent of the IRA rising at Easter 1916. In order to give a proper impression of Blatchford's ideas, however, we can do no better than turn to his vision of Merrie England.
Unlike modern socialists who preach the Marxist concept of absolute economic determinism to the exclusion of all other factors, Blatchford accepted that: "Men are made what they are by two forces: heredity and environment," and continued: "Your intellect and character are at birth what your forefathers made them" (p32).
He also accepted innate differences in national character, praising the British people for being "intelligent, industrious, strong, and famous for their perseverance, their inventiveness and resource" (p2).
While Marxian socialists have an entirely materialistic world outlook, Blatchford specifically attacked laissez-faire capitalism for its materialism:
"Your Manchester School treat all social and industrial problems from the standpoint of mere animal subsistence. They do not seem to think that you have any mind. With them it is a question of bread and cheese and be thankful" (p4).
Unlike most modern socialists Blatchford was an advocate of economic nationalism:
Blatchford's advocacy of economic nationalism was carried over into the agricultural field. In the following passage Blatchford addresses himself to Mr. Smith, an imaginary reader:
Unlike modern socialists with their open and subterranean connections to cosmopolitan financiers, Blatchford railed against finance capitalism and characterized the Jew as his favorite example of a usurer who lends money for public works:
In at least one reprinted version of Merrie England which the writer of this article has seen, the word "Jew" was replaced by "rich man." This is just one small example of the wholesale suppression of the facts about the nationalist and racialist attitudes of early British socialists.
Writing in The Clarion Blatchford expressed concern over the influx of "poor unshorn and unsavory children of the Ghetto" into Britain. He said that the number of Jewish aliens in East London was alarming "and their increase appalling. " The paper also declared that their habits were "unclean," and that "their presence is often a menace and an injury to the English working classes." (Quoted by Edmund Silberner in "British Socialism and the Jews," Historia Judaica, XIV 1952, pp40-41).
Blatchford's economic nationalism was to some extent shared by Pete Curran, the Gas Workers' representative in the Independent Labour Party, though it is important to grasp that the socialists were split over their attitude to the Empire. While some followed Joe Chamberlain in viewing the Empire as a vital asset, others saw it as a drain on British resources. Perhaps both views had an element of truth in them, but it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this question. What interests us here is that both views were essentially patriotic. Speaking at a Socialist Congress in 1900 Pete Curran stated:
The reference to "Jingoes" is related to the Boer War which brought the question of Imperialism to a head, splitting the socialist ranks. While some supported the war out of patriotism, others attacked it as the work of shady financiers. The Fabian Society objected (in George Bernard Shaw's phrase) to "stray little states lying about in the way of great powers," while Bruce Glasier of the Independent Labour Party complained in his diary about the whipping up of war hysteria: "All our civilization seems to fall away ... Alas, the people seem to have gone back. The Daily Mail and the other great Capitalist and Jewish ... papers have excited madness among them ..." (The views of H. M. Hyndman and his Social-Democratic Federation are covered later in this article).
Before she was married Beatrice Webb had spent a few weeks in the East End of London as a working girl and investigator of sweated labor. As a result of this research she drew a number of conclusions about the Jews which were published in 1888 in The Nineteenth Century magazine.
She stated that "the love of profit as distinct from other forms of money-earning is the strongest impelling motive of the Jewish race," and that they were deficient in "social morality."
In a treatise entitled Industrial Democracy written by Beatrice and her husband, they refer to the Jews in England as "a constant influence for degradation."
George Bernard Shaw, meanwhile, characterized the Jews as "the real enemy, the invader from the East, the Druze, the ruffian, the oriental parasite, in a word the Jew" (Morning Post 13 December 1925).
In his book The Outline of History (1920) H. G. Wells stated: "The Jews looked for a special saviour, a messiah, who was to redeem mankind by the agreeable process of restoring the fabulous glories of David and Solomon, and bringing the whole world at last under the benevolent but firm Jewish heel."
In Is Race Conflict Unavoidable? (1924) he wrote:
Of all the early socialists with nationalist and racialist leanings, one of the most genuinely patriotic was the selfconfessed but highly enigmatic Marxist, H. M. Hyndman (1842-1921). Hyndman, whose family was of Ulster Scots origin, was originally a "Tory Radical." As a young man he was sympathetic to the Italian nationalist struggle, the Risorgimento, and became interested in greater unification between Britain, Australia and Canada. He may have been influenced in this by his Cambridge contemporary, Charles Dilke, whose Greater Britain was published in 1868.
Hyndman gradually took a greater and greater interest in socialism, however, and in January 1881 he wrote an article in The Nineteenth Century magazine entitled "The Dawn of a Revolutionary Epoch." This made some interesting revelations on the role of Jews both in the "Establishment" and in revolutionary movements:
Later in the same year Hyndman founded the Democratic Federation, which changed its name to the Social-Democratic Federation in 1884, to the Social-Democratic Party in 1907, and effectively became the British Socialist Party in 1911.
Throughout the rest of his political career Hyndman considered himself to be a Marxist, though Marx was jealously contemptuous of him and Engels hostile. It was perhaps the crowning irony of Hyndman's life that he should have continued to describe himself as a disciple of a Jew, when his attitude to the Jews as a group became less and less ambiguous and more and more openly critical.
Hyndman condemned the Jameson raid as a "piratical expedition" bankrolled by "the most loathsome set of Jew capitalists and Christian financiers." (H. M. Hyndman and British Socialism by Chushichi Tsuzuki, Oxford University Press, 1961, p126).
When the Boer War finally broke outhe described itas "the Jews' War" and as an "abominable war on behalf of GermanJew mineowners and other international interlopers." At a London meeting in 1900 he spoke so forcefully of the "Jewish International" that a motion of censure was tabled for the forthcoming party conference (Ibid. p128).
Hyndman was disturbed by the election to the Federation's executive in 1900 of Theodore Rothstein, a Jewish emigr6 from Russia. It was Rothstein and Zelda Kahan, who was also of Russian-Jewish origin, who led the opposition to Hyndman's growing mistrust of German ambitions and the support given to them by German-Jewish socialists.
In a private letter dated 9 May 1905 Hyndman complained that: " ... among certain cliques it is as as inadmissable to criticize the Germans in Socialism as it is to point out that Jews have their drawbacks" (Ibid. p199).
The struggle with Rothstein had a strange sequel for during the subsequent Great War Hyndman got hold of a list of Foreign Office employees which included Rothstein's name: "What was my amazement and horror," wrote Hyndman, "to find among them the name of Th. Rothstein, a RussianGerman Jew, who has been working here for years in and out of the Socialist movement ... for and on behalf of Germany" (Ibid. p244).
In the pre-War period the Labour Party in the House of Commons opposed British rearmament, but Hyndman advocated it particularly with regard to the navy. He accused the Labor Party of wanting only "a sham defense" which was "worse than no defense at all" (Ibid. p210). Kahan and Rothstein naturally agitated against him.
In the 3 September 1910 issue of his paper Justice, Hyndman wrote of:
It is obvious from the above passage that Hyndman, although a self-proclaimed "Marxist," was first and foremost a patriot, and only secondly a socialist; while his "internationalism" stopped short of internationalism!
In 1911 the transformation of the SDP into the BSP with added elements who had left the Independent Labour Party, gave Zelda Kahan and her supporters a majority on the new executive in favor of disarmament. Hyndman threatened to resign while one of his supporters, Victor Fisher, actually did so, denouncing Kahan and "comrades alien in blood and race" (Ibid. p213).
In Ireland, meanwhile, the Ulster Loyalists were arming to resist Irish Home Rule, and Hyndman welcomed "the bold front shown by the Ulstermen" (Ibid. p189). Events there were soon overshadowed by the European conflict, however.
When the First World War broke out Hyndman drafted a manifesto declaring that Britain had no interest in the quarrel, but once Britain was itself at war Hyndman came out strongly in support of his own country. His hold on the party weakened, however, when a member of the executive who supported the war volunteered for military service, and was replaced by an internationalist, J. Fineberg, another Russian Jew. This was deplored by Hyndman's supporters who attacked "the pro-German attitude of several Russo-Jewish refugees" (Ibid. p225).
Victor Fisher who had earlier been reconciled with the BSP repudiated it entirely as being dominated by the internationalist and thus unpatriotic outlook of exiles. In April 1915 Fisher formed a Socialist National Defense Committee which included Blatchford and H. G. Wells. It advanced the cause of "Britain for the British," an echo of Blatchford's 1902 pamphlet, and attacked the anti-War "pseudoSocialists" who were "aliens by birth, blood or sentiment" (Ibid. p233). This committee later became the British Workers' National League and later still the National Democratic Party.
Hyndman, meanwhile, split away from the BSP in April 1916, and soon after formed the National Socialist Party. Amongst its leading personalities was the patriotic Adolphe Smith, who collaborated with the authoress Nesta Webster in her once famous expos6s of that peculiar alliance between capitalism, bolshevism and German imperialism.
Hyndman was sympahetic to Kerensky and the social revolutionaries who wanted to pursue the war, but bitterly opposed to the bolsheviks. He later denounced Lenin as "a communist Ivan the Terrible," and described the bolshevik regime as "autocratic, cruel and butcherly to the last degree" (Ibid. p239). He supported Allied intervention against the bolsheviks, provided support was given only to those who opposed both bolshevism and czarism.
In May 1917 Hyndman attacked Karl Marx's grandson, Jean Longuet, the leading pacifist in the French Socialist Party. Hyndman concluded: "Of late the Jewish blood in him had been manifesting itself chiefly in love for intrigue" (Ibid. p244).
When peace came the NSP advocated that Hyndman should act as a British representative at the Peace Conference, a suggestion which was supported by the conservative Morning Post which, incidentally, did a great deal to expose the real nature of bolshevism. The paper praised him as "a sound Patriot-an Englishman who does not allow his socialism or his democratic passion to produce antinationalism," (Morning Post, 28 November 1918).
It need hardly be pointed out that the conservative Morning Post and the socialist H. M. Hyndman are both far removed from their modern counterparts today.
Hyndman was to have little role to play in the post-War world, and he died after a short illness in November 1921. In March 1922 a Hyndman Memorial Committee was set up whose members included Bernard Shaw and Wickham Steed, editor of The Times. The position of Wickham Steed was somewhat analogous to that of the Morning Post. In his memoirs, Through Thirty Years (Heinemann, 1924), Steed suggested that President Wilson's demand for recognition of bolshevik Russia at the Peace Conference was motivated by "Jacob Schiff, Warburg and other international financiers who wished above all to bolster the Jewish bolshevists to secure a field for German and Jewish exploitation of Russia."
What Hyndman shared in common with both the Morning Post and Wickham Steed was a common ethnic loyalty which transcended their political differences. It was in essence a mirror image of that opposing ethnic thread which joined international finance and bolshevism, and it was to foreshadow the development of the new political patterns of the 1920s and 30s.
In retrospect the First World War, like the Second was a cataclysmic tragedy which all true patriots have come to deplore. At the time, though, support for the war was the mark of a patriot, and it is in that light that the attitude of these pro-war socialist pioneers must be seen.
The obvious patriotism and candid racialism of these early socialists is in marked contrast to the attitudes and views held by socialists today. The triumph of internationalism and the change from an open-minded and well-meaning approach to a mindless religious fanaticism is a reflection of the changing genetic complexion of socialism's own advocates.