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Social Democratic Federation

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0097 COLL MISC 0522
Held at: British Library of Political and Economic Science
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Full title: Social Democratic Federation
Date(s): 1884-1889
Level of description: collection
Extent: 7 folders
Name of creator(s): Social Democratic Federation


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Social Democratic Federation was founded by Henry Mayers Hyndman (1842-1921), who converted to socialism after reading 'Das Kapital' while on holiday in the United States. This work inspired him to form a Marxist political group, and in 1881 he formed the Social Democratic Federation. This became the first Marxist political group in Britain and over the next few months 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 poet William Morris (1855-1898). By 1885 the organisation had over 700 members. At first the Federation was mainly concerned with land nationalisation but this quickly changed and their aims became more obviously socialist. Their manifesto "Socialism Made Plain" sets out their aims. These were improved housing for the working classes, free compulsory education for all classes, including free school meals, an eight hour working day, state ownership of banks and railways, abolition of the national debt, nationalisation of the land and the organisation of agricultural and industrial armies under state control run on co-operative principles. The Federation produced a weekly propaganda paper call 'Justice'. This was initially financed by Edward Carpenter and thereafter by William Morris. Its many contributors included George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and William Morris.

In 1886 the Federation became involved in organising strikes and demonstrations against low wages and unemployment. After one demonstration that led to a riot in London, three of the Federation's leaders, Hyndman, John Burns and H H Champion, editor of 'Justice', were arrested but acquitted. By 1884 there was disagreement within the Federation about the best way to achieve their aims. Henry Hyndman favoured using the parliamentary structure to achieve change but other members of the Federation were against this. The Federation split, with many members following William Morris to form the Socialist League. Champion, also left, taking his journal with him. Although the membership was never very large, the Social Democratic Federation continued and in February 1900 the group joined the Independent Labour Party, the Fabian Society and several trade unions to form the Labour Representation Committee, which eventually evolved into the Labour Party.


Scope and content/abstract:

Section 1: Letters from Herbert Burrows to members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) about the Staffordshire miners strike, on which he was reporting for 'Justice', correspondence concerning 'Justice' and 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: Manuscripts of articles for 'Justice', mainly undated.
Section 4: 4/1 Fly sheet. Eight hours demonstration at Birmingham town Hall, Herbert Burrows, 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 of the SDF, the Labour League and Justice", 19 Dec 1885.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is arranged by subject in 4 sections.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:


Finding aids:

Printed handlist available.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The William Morris letter to 'Dear Comrade of the SDF', 19 Dec 1885 is of unknown provenance, and has been in the library for some years.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Output from CAIRS using template 14 and checked by hand on May 8, 2002

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
May 8, 2002

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