H. M. Hyndman

The death of Mr. H. M. Hyndman, at a ripe old age, removes a figure of some prominence from the public life of this country.

He was an example of how an individual, without any outstanding abilities, could become noticeable by association with a set of ideas – not his own – that have stirred the modern world.

When the discoveries and ideas of Marx and Engels were first being spread in this country, H. M. Hyndman took up those ideas and, despite the fact of their unpopularity, became an advocate of them. The fact that he was a rich man added spice to the position he had taken up.

His grasp of the economic teachings of Marx was good and probably one of the most effective displays he gave in this connection was his lecture on “The Final Futility of Final Utility”, given before the Economic Circle of the National Liberal Club.

It is interesting to note that the great defenders of Jevons’s theory of “Final Utility” – like G. B. Shaw, Professor Foxwell, Wicksteed, Sidney Webb, etc – though specially invited, failed to attend that lecture to defend their favourite theory. Maybe the reason is not difficult to find.

The other great discoveries of Marx and Engels, particularly their philosophy of history, he never assimilated, nor even appeared to understand. This lack of understanding led him into various anti-Socialist activities. In opposition to Marx and Engels he held to the Blanquist position that the establishment of Socialism would be brought about by an “intelligent minority” leading the working class to their emancipation.

It easily followed from this that he was ready to indulge in political compromise – to the great confusion of his followers – and carried this to its logical conclusion when, at the outbreak of the Great war, he became a rabid “patriot”, although, with curious inconsistency, he declared that the position of the workers would remain the same no matter which side won.

As one of the so-called “well-educated class” who stood for Marxian economics when others claiming to be Socialists, like Webb, Shaw, etc., were opposing those theories, he will be remembered as something of a pioneer of those days. It was inevitable that his misunderstandings of the Marxian philosophy should have resulted in mis-education and mental confusion among the ranks of the advanced sections of the working class with whom he came into contact either by pen or platform. Some would argue that this confusion and misleading did harm to such an extent as to far outweigh the value of his work in other directions. This is probably true, but it does not obscure the fact that he stood for Marxism when it was being reviled in the early days, and he will be remembered much more for the position he then occupied than for the errors and anti-Socialist actions of his later years.

(January 1922)

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