Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement, 1880-1914 by Logie Barrow

By Logie Barrow

Problems with democratic precept and shape have been of significant significance within the pre-1914 socialist, exchange union and hard work pursuits. this is often the 1st targeted research of that discuss, which based round socialists of the British Radical culture, the Fabians, and the self reliant Labour occasion management, and which displays at the present argument over democratic constructions and electoral reform. Democratic rules and the British Labour circulate assesses attitudes to democracy at a formative interval within the historical past of socialist principles and the British Labour circulation.

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At each particular crisis the individual member found himself overmatched by the official machinery he had created' and a future of bureaucratic rule seemed inevitable. But, fortunately, 'democracy found yet another expedient' in the shape of a specialised 'legislature' of elected representatives to balance the specialised executive. As the Webbs saw it, 'primitive democracy' instead of ensuring control by the members had, in fact, strengthened the power of officials. Annual elections of general secretaries, for instance, 'invariably resulted in permanence of tenure exceeding even that of the English civil servant'.

There should also be a right of initiative; a certain proportion of the electorate, perhaps 5 per cent, should be able to refer a legislative proposition to the general vote. '23 The issue was important enough to find its way into the Federation's manifesto for the general election of 1895, which urged that 20 22 21 Justice, 18 November 1893. Justice, 11 July 1891; 19 August 1893. 23 Justice, 2 July 1892. Justice, 5 August 1893. 24 Opponents of direct legislation were highly suspect. This was particularly the case with 'that trimming gentleman', Ramsay MacDonald, who became a bete noire for the SDF when he stood in the 1895 election as an Independent Labour candidate after having, it was alleged, been turned down by the Liberals.

48 But this was a semi-defensive, semidefiant gesture to the barricades tradition, made in the context of a repudiation of anarchism and individual violence. There was no foreseeable 'chance of success'. Had one arrived, many Social-Democrats would have argued that the very strength of popular support that made a successful resort to force possible, made it unnecessary. 49 Generally, in the SDF, the belief was that violence would be unleashed by the other side. The winter of 1885-6 saw the beginning of the Federation's unemployment agitation in London.

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