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Socialist Reform in England

Mustafa Riad

19th Century England

Samuel Smith MP (1883) Our country is still free from Communism and Nihilism and similar destructive movements, but who can tell how ling this will continue? We have a festering mass of human wretchedness in all our great towns, which is the natural hotbed of such anarchial movements: all the great continental countries are full of this explosive material. Can we depend on our country keeping free fro the infection when we have far more poverty in our midst than the neighbouring European states?

Socialism defined
An ideology arguing that citizens are best served by policies focused on meeting the basic needs of the entire society rather than on serving the needs of individuals as individuals.

Term socialism coined in 1827 by British socialist Robert Owen to describe his view of a cooperative new society.

Socialisms emergence
Liberal political parties in 19th century Europe
failed to address the desperate needs of working people. Classical liberalism views poverty as an individual choice or failure, not the result of social structures. Also suspicious of big government. Socialism provides a different conception of individual responsibility & of government.

Socialism in England
In England, socialism became a political movement in 1884, with the creation of the Fabian Society that provided the basis for the Labour Party.


A British socialist intellectual movement founded in the mid1880s. Purpose advance socialism by working through the political system, not through revolution.. Famous Fabian Society members:G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells.

Significance of the Fabian Society

The Fabians did have a profound influence on the history and development of the British Labour movement it was not for their immediate political tactics, but for their success in formulating a long-term evolutionary programme, that the Fabians were to be important in the eventual foundation of the Labour Party.
Origins of the Labour Party by H Pelling

Socialisms principles
Egalitarianism or equality. Humankind will be unified and cooperative, once wealth is owned and used for the common good. Capitalism exploits the very people who create societys wealth. Moralism. Division of rich & poor is evil; capitalism is fundamentally unjust. Instead, the ideal future emphasizes peace, social justice and true liberty for all.

Social democracys similarities with Marxism

Both ask the question: why should those who provide the money (capital) receive all the profits, and those who provide the labor receive none of the profits? It is labor, after all, that turns raw materials (including cash) into something with greater value.

Social democracys differences from Marxism

Private property not abolished, but the public should control the use of property and make necessities available to all. Individual rights not abolished but should complement other important values such as concern for others. Change can occur through an evolutionary process that uses democratic means.

Marxs view of social democracy

Karl Marx said social democrats were naive to think that enlightened capitalists would join with workers to form a new society. Violent revolution was inevitable.

The British Labour Party

* Founded in 1900 by

the Scotsman, Keir Hardie. The growth of labor unions gave voice to
socialism in Britain. By 1906, it won 26 seats in Commons. Had to form a political coalition with the Liberal Party. By the 1920s, Labour would replace the Liberals as on of the two major British political parties.

The Beginnings of the Welfare State

Labours Political Agenda:
Gradual socialization of key industries & utilities. Workmans Compensation Act. State employment bureaus. Minimum wage set. Aid to dependent children & the elderly. Old age pension to all over 70. National Insurance Act.

Persistence of Capitalism
Explained by the Italian philosopher and political theorist: Antonio Gramsci (18911937) by the idea of hegemony.

Persistence of Capitalism
Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideolgically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the common sense values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the workingclass identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

State and Civil Society

Gramsci's theory of hegemony is tied to his conception of the capitalist state, which he claims rules through force plus consent. The state is not to be understood in the narrow sense of the government; instead, Gramsci divides it between 'political society', which is the arena of political institutions and legal constitutional control, and civil society, which is commonly seen as the 'private' or 'non-state' sphere, including the economy. The former is the realm of force and the latter of consent. He stresses, however, that the division is purely conceptual and that the two, in reality, often overlap.

Post WWII Welfare State in England I

The Welfare State of the United Kingdom was prefigured in the William Beveridge Report in 1942, which identified five "Giant Evils" in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Clement Attlee's 1945 Labour government pledged to eradicate these Evils. The government undertook measures in policy to provide for the people of the United Kingdom "from the cradle to the grave."

Post WWII Welfare State in England II

This policy resulted in massive expenditure and a great widening of what was considered to be the state's responsibility. In addition to the central services of Education, Health, Unemployment and sickness allowances and so on, the welfare state included the idea of increasing redistributive taxation, increasing regulation of industry food and housing (better safety regulations, "weights and measures" controls etc.)

Thatcher came to power after the economic crisis in the mid-1970s, which was largely blamed on the big state and over-mighty trade unions. Thatcherism thus claimed that a smaller state, freer markets and weaker trade unions would be the cure for Britain's economic decline.

Cultural Materialism
Raymond Williams: we cannot separate art from other kinds of social practice, in such a way as to make them subject to quite special and distinct laws

Cultural Materialism
This attention to social process has far-reaching consequences. To begin with it leads us beyond idealist literary criticism that preoccupied with supposedly universal truths which find their counterpart in mans essential nature; the criticism in which history is seen as inessential or a constraint transcended in the affirmation of a transhistorical human conditon. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield