Scope and Content

  • Section 1: Letters from Herbert Burrows to members of the SDF about theStaffordshire miners strike, on which he was reporting forJustice, correspondence concerning Justiceand the SDF by various authors,articles intended for Justice. Either undated or dated 1884.
  • Section 2: Letters to Justice and various members of the SDF 1884 -1889.
  • Section 3: Mss. of articles for Justice, mainly undated.
  • Section 4: 4/1 Fly sheet. Eight hours demonstration at Birmingham Town Hall, HerbertBurrows, Chairman, on the back pencil notes on wages in the metal trades.
  • 4/2 Walter Crane cartoon for May Day
  • Appendix (M859 R (SR) ARC2) William Morris letter to Dear Comrade on the SDF,the Labour League and Justice, 19th December 1885. This letter is ofunknown provenance has been in the library for some years. The original willbe found at R (SR) ARC 2. A copy is available on our appendix in Coll Misc0522.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Social Democratic Federation was founded by Henry Mayers Hyndman (1842 -1921), who converted to socialism after reading "Das Kapital" while onholiday in the United States. This work inspired him to form a Marxistpolitical group, and in 1881 he formed the Social Democratic Federation. Thisbecame the first Marxist political group in Britain and over the next fewmonths Hyndman was able to recruit trade unionists such as Tom Mann (1856 -1941) and John Burns (1858 - 1943) into the organisation. Eleanor Marx (1855- 1898), Karl's youngest daughter became a member, as did the artist and poetWilliam Morris (1855 - 1898). By 1885 the organisation had over 700members.

At first the Federation was mainly concerned with land nationalisation butthis quickly changed and their aims became more obviously socialist. Theirmanifesto Socialism Made Plain sets out their aims. These were improvedhousing for the working classes, free compulsory education for all classes,including free school meals, an eight hour working day, state ownership ofbanks and railways, abolition of the national debt, nationalisation of theland and the organisation of agricultural and industrial armies under statecontrol run on co-operative principles.

The Federation produced a weekly propaganda paper call Justice. This wasinitially financed by Edward Carpenter and thereafter by William Morris. Itsmany contributors included George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950) and WilliamMorris.

In 1886 the Federation became involved in organising strikes anddemonstrations against low wages and unemployment. After one demonstrationthat led to a riot in London, three of the Federation's leaders, Hyndman,John Burns and H.H. Champion, editor of the Justice, were arrested butacquitted.

By 1884 there was disagreement within the Federation about the best way toachieve their aims. Henry Hyndman favoured using the parliamentary structureto achieve change but other members of the Federation were against this. TheFederation split, with many members following William Morris to form theSocialist League. H.H. Champion, also left, taking his journal with him.Although the membership was never very large, the Social DemocraticFederation continued and in February 1900 the group joined the IndependentLabour Party, the Fabian Society and several trade unions to form the LabourRepresentation Committee, which eventually evolved into the Labour Party.


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