E. Belfort Bax

Justice and the Early
Days of the SDF

(8 February 1923)

E. Belfort Bax, Justice and the Early Days of the SDF, Justice, 8th February 1923, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

The writer of these lines and the editor of Justice are probably well nigh the last of those who were present at the meeting at Anderton’s Hotel in January, 1884, to inaugurate the new life which the SDF (founded three years earlier as the Democratic Federation) was entering upon at that time and which was signalised by the appearance upon the scene of its weekly organ Justice. Up till then the Democratic Federation had existed without any organ of publicity. The meeting was reported in (if I am not mistaken) the first issue of Justice.

How well I remember that gathering. Hyndman, Joynes, Champion, Frost, Quelch, Scheu, the two cobblers Murray (bearers of Bronterre O’Brien’s and the Chartist tradition), old Stuart Glennie, that scion of a side-line of the Stuarts, who aspired to be the founder of a new Socialist philosophy of history, all were there, and all (save Champion) are now in the realm of shades. One other survivor of that meeting occurs to me – to wit, our old friend Stewart Headlam. All those mentioned, if I mistake not, made revolutionary speeches on the occasion. I remember I brought forward a strong international resolution which was objected to by Glennie in the interests of a scheme of democratic British hegemony, but he subsequently withdrew his opposition and the resolution was carried. Justice henceforward occupied much of our time and energies throughout the year 1884, and much good was done with it as a means of propaganda.

The Split of 1884

Altogether the year 1884 may be regarded as the year of the birth of Socialism in England. The unfortunate “split” which occurred at the end of the year, and resulted in the foundation of the Socialist League under William Morris’s leadership, did not throw back the propaganda so much as might have been expected. That was an exciting evening in Christmas week, 1884, in Palace Chambers, Westminster, when the “split” took place. It is doubtful whether any of those present save the present writer are still among the living. H.W. Lee, although a member of the organisation, was not there if my memory serves me right. It was late at night when Morris and myself drove to Hammersmith where the foundation of the Socialist League was projected. The League was vigorous when started and its organ the Commonweal, successfully launched, but, as the sequel has proved, Justice prevailed and is now living, while the Commonweal, excellent paper though it was in many respects, died in 1891.

Its Effect

The fact was those who seceded under misunderstanding and false suspicions of their SDF colleagues were inexperienced in political action and lacked a leader who was also a man of affairs such as Hyndman. Hence the new movement, which foolishly disdained democratic political action from the outset, soon became permeated with anarchist notions by anarchist cranks. This was the dry-rot which ultimately destroyed it. Meanwhile the SDF fluctuated between triumphant popularity for a short time, after the unemployed riots of 1886 and the resulting trial of Hyndman, Burns, Champion and Williams for sedition, and successive slumps from lack of means, but always “kept its end up” and its paper going.

Now, with one or two exceptions, all the Old Guard of the SDF have gone from the habitations of men. Let us hope that the new generation of its workers will keep the old flames alive during the ensuing forty years as those of the old generation did during the past forty years, and that before the end of the next corresponding period the SDFers then living will see at least the first dawn of the Social-Democratic Republic of the united peoples of Europe.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 27.5.2007