Book Review: Revolutionists in London

Revolutionists in London: A Study of Five Unorthodox Socialists. By James W. Hulse. OUP 48s.


This book deals with five political rebels living in London in the second half of the 19th century: Stepniak the Russian Nihilist, Kropotkin the Anarcho-Communist, Bernstein the revisionist, Shaw the Fabian and Morris who came nearest of them to being a revolutionary socialist. Hulse is disappointed in the conventional histories of Socialism, Communism and Anarchism: “They are usually so technical, so preoccupied with institutional and doctrinal disputes.”


Yet we are not told how else the subject can be dealt with. After all people who set out to change the world (revolutionaries) arc bound to be concerned with questions of theory and organisation. As a result the book does not have anything to offer to anyone interested in the development of the theories of scientific socialism. Not that the subjects of Hulse’s study are likely to be much help. Although wary of theory contact with it cannot be avoided, as in this passage:


Morris found it necessary to make the break because Hyndman’s faction was too authoritarian, too wildly militant, and too opportunistic — in short, too Marxist.

A description no doubt that fits some of to-days would-be Marxists as well as the Social Democratic Federation from which Morris and his associates were breaking away to form the Socialist League.


Had Hulse gone into theoretical matters a little deeper he might have concluded, as we do, that Marxism is the opposite to what Hyndman and the SDF, made of it. It is concerned with basing its action on political principles deduced from a scientific study of society, organising democratically as a political party to win over majority support for Socialism. That has nothing to do with authoritarianism, wild militancy or opportunism.


Joe Carter