Ross McKibbin and the Rise of Labour

W.G. Runciman

  • The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain 1880-1950 by Ross McKibbin
    Oxford, 308 pp, £35.00, April 1990, ISBN 0 19 822160 6

In 1984, Ross McKibbin published an article in the English Historical Review called ‘Why was there no Marxism in Great Britain?’ His choice of title was a deliberate invocation of the celebrated essay which Werner Sombart published in 1906 under the title Why is there no socialism in the United States? It does not, of course, mean literally what it says. There was, and still is, a far from total lack of Marxism in Great Britain. But it has been confined almost exclusively to the chattering rather than the working classes. The creed which was supposed both to explain and to accelerate the impending demise of the capitalist system failed to convince, or even to interest, the overwhelming majority of those who should have had most to gain from taking it seriously. How, therefore, was it that the country which before 1914 seemed ideally suited to produce a working-class political party committed to socialism failed to do so?

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