Studies in British Socialism
In the spring of 1911 I resigned my post as London correspondent of Vorwarts, and, after a spell of unemployment, which was painful for me mainly on account of the privation of my family, consisting then of my wife and two boys, I entered into an agreement with a German publisher to write a history of British Socialism, with Chartism and the Labour Party as its central pieces. The publisher, Herr Dietz of Stuttgart, was extremely generous; he undertook to pay me for the book 3,000 marks (£150 at par), the payment to be made in monthly instalments of 100 marks (£5 at par) during the writing until I delivered the manuscript, and the balance on the publication of the book. The current monthly income of £5 from my publisher I eked out with occasional corre spondence for a German paper, which brought me 30 marks (£1 10s.) a month, and on a total monthly income of 130 marks (£6 10s. at par) I settled down to my work. It kept me busy for fifteen months, mostly in the British Museum Reading Room and Manuscript Department and at the Hendon Repository, the so-called “ cemetery” of English books and papers, where I found unique material for the period 1825-34, the most productive decade of original thought among Socialist and Labour writers and leaders in Britain. My joy at discovering hitherto unknown documents of profound significance for Socialists richly compensated me for many a hungry day in those months of 1911-12. I started my history with a concise summary of the
achievements of the Glorious Revolution, mainly with a view to instructing my German readers about the new relations between Crown and Parliament, so as to make the political inferiority of the German Constitution more conspicuous. Then, after a sketch of the Industrial Revolution and its social
implications, I traced the movement for Parliamentary Reform — the London Corresponding Society, Peterloo, the first Reform Bill-and broadened out into the story of Chartism in all its details and vicissitudes. It was generally acknowledged that my book gave for the first time a real history of that mass upheaval of British Labour. I then passed hurriedly through the relative political calm of 1855-80 to the revival of Socialist propaganda at the beginning of the ’eighties, which in its ups and downs finally led to the formation of the Labour Representation Committee, later the Labour Party, in 1899-1900. That subject received detailed treatment up to 1910. The fate of the book was rather curious. My German and
Russian Socialist reviewers damned it with faint praise; the book, they averred, was instructive but hardly Marxist. A German Liberal reviewer opined that the author understood nothing of English life; while an English graduate, who was taking some courses at the University of Berlin, described it in one of the foremost academic German monthlies as a book on English Labour and economic thought second only to Marx’s Capital. Professor Gustav Schmoller, in his Jahrbiich (1914), devoted over forty pages to a review of the book, finally remarking that the author had all the stuff in him that went to the making of an historian, but that his inveterate Marxism was cramping his abilities. A dispassionate and very favourable review appeared in The Times Literary Supplement (June, 1913), in consequence of which I received several offers from London publishers for an English translation of the book.