British Social Democracy

The “Social Democrat” and “British Socialist,” 1897-1913
By H.W. Lee, December 15, 1913.

Source: British Socialist, December 1913;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

With this number the “Social-Democrat” (latterly the “British Socialist”) completes the sixteenth year of its existence as a monthly Socialist magazine and review. It was started in January, 1897, by our never-to-be-forgotten comrade, H. Quelch. It began as a twopenny magazine of 32 pages, and continued in that form for six years. At the beginning of 1903 it was increased to 64 pages, printed on thicker paper, and issued at 6d. But though the change was made in response to many requests for enlargement and improvement, the sale steadily diminished; and in 1908 it was reduced to threepence. The formation of the British Socialist Party took place at the end of 1911, and in January, 1912, the “Social-Democrat” became the “British Socialist.”

There is no doubt whatever that Socialists frequently fail to appreciate at the moment the many good articles, reviews, and the reliable information concerning their international movement that is constantly set before them. It is in looking back on what has been published years ago that we see how much valuable work has been done by the many contributors who have voluntarily and cheerfully given of their best to the literary and journalist side of the Socialist cause. The pages of the past volumes of the “Social-Democrat” teem with matter that is of the greatest historical interest and value. There are “Personal Sketches” of leaders of the people – past and present. Biographies of Karl Marx, Robert Owen, Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel, Sophie Perovskaia, George Julian Harney, the old Chartist, Auguste Blanqui, Henry George, William Morris, J.L. Joynes, and many others who have passed from us will be found, together with many who are living and working in the Socialist movement. There are articles innumerable on Socialist theory, policy and tactics; on matters of foreign policy, subject races, colonial questions; while the extracts from magazine articles on various economic and social questions have always been a feature of the “Social-Democrat.” To it, too, our late comrade Quelch contributed a number of those excellent short stories to which Hyndman has frequently referred, and which, it is hoped, will soon be published in volume form; and at the time he contributed them anonymously. “Jim Carter’s Last Day,” “Only – he was a Socialist!” “Bread and Stones,” and “In the Merry Christmas Time” are among some of his most powerful pieces depicting the awful daily tragedy of poorer working-class life; while “The Dynamiters,” on the other hand, is delightfully humorous.

Then the articles – the volumes for 1899 to 1903 contain matter of a most valuable description regarding that infamy in South Africa which no one but ourselves would believe was going to happen even four weeks before hostilities began. In the volume for 1902, J.B. Askew furnishes us with a translation of the discussion which took place in the “Neue Zeit” between E. Belfort Bax and Karl Kautsky on “The Materialist Conception of History.” In the volume for 1903 there is the symposium on “Clericalism and Socialism,” in which Vandervelde, Destree, Vollmar, Simons, Iglesias, Kautsky, Bernstein, Knudsen, and a number of other leading Socialists of all countries took part. In that for 1904 there are the memoirs of Jean Allemane, who went through the Commune, and was banished to New Caledonia, whence he returned at the Amnesty to take his place in the ranks of the French Socialists. I recollect visiting his printery in the Rue Saint Sauveur, Paris, in 1889, where the “Proletariat” was printed. The series of articles on the “Patriarchs of Socialism” began in 1904, and was continued the following year.

Page after page could be filled with descriptions of what has appeared. The Socialist movement in all countries has been dealt with; editorial notes on matters of the moment have been written each month: facts and figures, stories and sketches and poetry abound. Knowing how useful such a magazine should be to Socialists in this country, if they would only recognise the fact, it is all the more regrettable that I should have to announce that this number will be the last of the “British Socialist.” The sale, which diminished with the alteration in size and price in 1903, has gone down steadily, and it went down still further with the alteration of the title from “Social-Democrat” to “British Socialist.” Merely to publish a magazine at a loss for the sake of the comparative few who take it regularly is useless, and it has, therefore, been decided to discontinue the publication of the “British Socialist” – at all events, for the present. The loss arising from its publication can be much more serviceably applied to the enlargement and improvement of “Justice,” which is a real necessity to the Socialist movement in this country. Sometimes the absence of a thing causes its value to be more generally recognised than its presence. It is very likely to be the case with the “British Socialist.” If that turns out to be so, and if it is shown later that there is a demand, as there undoubtedly ought to be, for a serious Socialist critical review in this country, then there will be no difficulty in bringing out one which in some respects may be an improvement on the “Social-Democrat,” though it is difficult to see how it can be made more useful.