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Socialism, Britain

Nathan King


In the early years of the first industrial revolution, a variety of socialist writers and activists grappled with the rapidly changing social and economic conditions within Britain. Approaches ranged from the utopian socialism of Robert Owen , to the Christian socialism of Frederick Denison Maurice, to the aesthetic socialism of John Ruskin. Marx and Engel's scientific communism, which found expression in the Londonbased Communist League, found little support until the 1880s. While philosophically significant, these socialist theorists and experimenters had little immediate influence on the British masses. This role was played by the Chartists , a coalition of working-class reformers that sought, among other things, universal male suffrage. While ostensibly not socialist, the sympathies of the Chartists favored socialist-style reforms. For example, one of the Chartists' most active leaders, Bronterre O'Brien , wrote in an 1841 critique of property that an “enlightened Government… would place commerce and manufactures upon a different footing from the present, and make the land the common property of all the inhabitants” ( Mather 1980 : 93). In the wake of the 1848 revolutions and the failure of Chartism, British laborers and moderate reformers preferred action based on parliamentary reform and cooperation. This did not mean that socialist organizers did not exist. Rather, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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