“The lack of a positive policy towards trade unions was a fatal flaw in the SDF’s political programme [Social Democratic Federation]. Engels recognised this in 1891 when he suggested that the SDF was becoming a ‘mere sect because they cannot conceive that living theory of action, of working with the working classes at every possible stage of this development (29). Tom Mann was similarly critical: ‘I am convinced, however, that Hyndman’s bourgeois mentality made it impossible for him to estimate the worth of industrial organisation correctly’ (30). The fact is that the lack of a positive policy towards trade unions and industrial action was to undermine constantly the position of the SDF in relation to other socialist groups, and particularly to the ILP. This issue cropped up throughout the history of the SDF and was evident in the case of the Socialist Unity debate before the First World War (…). The SDF’s attitude to trade unionism was partly conditioned by the extracts of Marx’s writings that were published by the SDF. ‘Wages, Labour and Capital’, which was translated by J.L. Joynes and serialised in ‘Justice’ in 1884, the first volume of ‘Capital’ partially translated in ‘Today’ in October 1885, and the ‘Communist Manifesto’, serialised in ‘Justice’, were, on the whole, dismissive of trade unionism. The first two suggested that trade unions could have no more than a marginal influence upon wages and working conditions, although the third of these did suggest that trade unions could help to build up organisation. In a period of weak trade unionism when the collapse of capitalism seemed imminent it appeared foolish to assign much importance to trade unionism” [Keith Laybourn, The Rise of Socialism in Britain, c. 1881-1951, Gloucestershire, 1997] [(29) Letter from F. Engels to Laura Lafargue, 4 May 1891, quoted in Kapp, ‘Eleanor Marx’, p. 475; (30) T. Mann, ‘Memoirs’, London, Labour Publishing Company, 1923, p. 41]

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