Socialist League (UK, 1885)

The Socialist League was an early revolutionary socialist organisation in the United Kingdom.

In 1884 a group of members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) attempted to remove H. M. Hyndman from the leadership of the party. This group objected to his nationalism and alleged that he used dictatorial methods in running the party. At a meeting of the SDF executive on 28th December, there was a heated argument about Hyndman's leadership. There were complaints about his control over the party's journal, "Justice". Others were unhappy about Hyndman's tendency to expel members he disagreed with. The SDF executive voted by a majority of two (10-8), that it had no confidence in Hyndman.

Some members, including William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Ernest Belfort Bax and Edward Aveling decided to leave the SDF and early in 1885, they formed the Socialist League. Several SDF branches, such as those in East London, Hammersmith and Leeds, joined the new organisation. Other important figures in the movement such as Edward Carpenter and Walter Crane also became members of the Socialist League.

The initial manifesto of the organisation was composed by Morris and Bax. It advocated revolutionary internationalism and was approved by Friedrich Engels as a valid expression of Marxist policies. The party published a journal, "Commonweal".

William Morris was disappointed by the slow growth of the organisation. After six months, the Socialist League only had eight branches and 230 members. Morris wrote to a friend: "I am in low spirits about the prospects of our party, if I can dignify a little knot of men by such a word. You see we are such a few, and hard as we work we don't seem to pick up people."

Britain's economic problems in the 1880s helped to revive interest in the Socialist League. By January 1887 the membership of the party reached 550. However, many members were unemployed and too poor to pay subscriptions. The treasurer reported that only 280 members were able to contribute to party funds.

In 1887 John Bruce Glasier, an unemployed craftsman, formed a branch in Glasgow. Within a few months Glasier reported that it had 53 members. When Glasier organised one open-air meeting in the city, an estimated 20,000 people heard a series of speeches on socialism. The Socialist League continued to grow and by 1895 had over 10,700 members. The party attracted many anarchists, who gained control by the early 1890s. This led some of the founders to leave and rejoin the SDF, or the Independent Labour Party. Nonetheless, the party remained active until it was disbanded in 1901, at which point it still had over 6,000 members.

External links

* [ Libcom index on Socialist League]
* [ Bill Holmes and the Socialist League] From EASF

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