nick_owen_smaller_sqPlease send me a message.

    Name: (required)

    Email address: (required)


    Other People’s Struggles

    Feb 20

    Better be a road sweeper
    than a judge

    The phrase ‘better to be a road sweeper than a judge’ comes from Gilles Deleuze’s Dialogues II. I use it in my book Other People’s Struggles to illustrate an argument about how social movements might approach the problem of the adherent. This is the problem of the difference between ‘insiders’ motivated by standing to benefit if the movement is successful, and ‘outsiders’ who do not stand to benefit, but participate (for example) out of a sense of altruism or moral obligation.

    Most of the book concerns the question of whether, when and how the outsiders — or adherents, as I term them — can participate. The answer, I suggest, turns on what the movement is trying to do. But in one chapter, towards the end, I reverse the question. I ask what would a movement have to be trying to do for such participation to be unproblematic. The answer I propose is that it would have to be ‘becoming–’ something other than it is (or, indeed, just ‘becoming–’) The idea of becoming– (the en-dash – is intentional) comes from reading Delueze’s open-ended philosophy.

    For Delueze, to quote from Dialogues II again, ‘judging is the profession of many people, and it is not a good profession, but it is also the use to which many people put writing.’ Judges pronounce rules. They preside over courts and lay down the law, impersonally, without themselves being implicated in the judgments they make. They recognise, regulate, admit and decide, rather than simply encountering otherness and seeing where it takes them. They ‘speak … in the name and in the place of others’. This is why it is better to be a road sweeper than a judge.

    The phrase is not a negative contrast of professions. It is not that judging is so dreadful that even road sweeping — a hard, dull job — is actually preferable. The contrast is that where judges assume the power to lay down the law and restrict what others can do, road sweepers clear the way for others, perhaps also for themselves, since road sweepers use roads too. Road sweepers assume nothing, but merely help to create the conditions in which all sorts of traffic might happen.

    This, I think, is the sort of ‘becoming– work’ which — if pursued by a social movement — might allow insiders and outsiders to participate together, in solidarity. But, whatever else it might be, such work is hard to define, because defining is the work of judges and not road sweepers. It is also often hard to pursue, not only because some people like being judges, and because judging does have certain value and rewards, but also — as Deleuze suggests in Dialogues II — because ‘some people demand to be judged, if only to be recognised as guilty’.


    Read More
    Feb 12

    Solidarity in the Global Justice Movement

    The T shirts in the photograph above were, and at the time of writing still are, readily available from , the global on-demand T shirt printing web business. They were designed in 2011 for sale to supporters of the Occupy movement in London, New York and elsewhere. The slogan they bear – “We are the 99%” – was probably derived from an article by Joseph Stiglitz, although there are other accounts of its origins.   Stiglitz had pointed out how, in the USA, the top 1% received nearly a quarter of the income and owned 40% of the wealth.

    For £19 plus postage, will happily print any one of hundreds of versions of the slogan on a T shirt for you.  A predictable point about the commodification of anti-capitalist protest can be made easily enough. In the year of Occupy (2011) applied to become a public company.  According to its offer document, its principal executives all fell safely into the 1% and not the 99%. 

    But this particular version of the slogan is worth further attention.  The ’99’ figure is here rendered like a double quotation mark.  The hole in the middle – the ‘counter’ as typographers call it – is filled in.  This is suggestive in at least three further respects.   Double quotation marks are, first, used to mark direct, rather than indirect, speech.  The Occupy movement provided the occasion for people to speak out for themselves, rather than be spoken for by others.  Secondly, the same marks are often used as “scare-quotes” in writing – or “finger-quotes” in speech.  They denote the intention of the speaker to put ironic distance between herself and what she says.  “Scare-” or “finger-quotes” are a way to allude to something without committing yourself to an established definition or a firm meaning, or as a way to indicate that the meaning of the term is disputed.  And thirdly, the same symbol is also used in lists as the “ditto” mark.  It indicates repetition or copying, an allusion perfectly manifested in the printed T shirt: multiplied, repeated, and – from – endlessly available on demand in a variety of colours.

    As has often been pointed out, the 99 per cent could not possibly constitute a single interest. They are much too various.  But that criticism, though both true and fair, still misses the point.  The slogan “We are the 99%” is not a representative claim.  It is a constative utterance. The 99 per cent creates itself in speaking.

    The question is what exactly it creates in speaking the slogan.  The fraction of the population who self-identify as the 99% is clearly much smaller than 99%. And yet the identity they claim is not even confined to one nation, but global. It identifies itself as part of a Global Justice Movement. What does such a movement have in common and who does it identify with? How is solidarity built in a movement which bring together people from so many countries, and from such diverse social backgrounds? What,for example, is the relationship between the wearer of the T shirt and the exploited Vietnamese factory worker who makes it?

    I begin by considering the possibility that the activists are, despite social differences, nonetheless similarly socially located. However, there is little evidence that this is so. The activists are highly unequal in terms of the resources they possess, what they risk, and what they have at stake. They are differently exposed to globalization (which is itself uneven in its effects) and possess different levels of influence within and beyond their own states. The activists do not seem to share a status as the ‘precarious’ losers from neoliberal globalization. According to my research, British supporters of alter-globalization were just as likely to believe themselves to be personal beneficiaries of globalization as losers from it. Many of the supporters in Europe and North America claim to feel excluded, but even if this is so, it puts them socially apart from the representatives of the global south who are often, sometimes through the GJM itself, successful, well-connected, and upwardly mobile. Both groups are differently positioned to those who suffer most from globalization: those impoverished by trade liberalisation, the exploitation of natural resources, and cuts in social programs imposed by international funders.

    A better theory, then, is that the Global Justice Movement is not a representative assembly of the ‘losers’ from neoliberal globalization, but a coalition of its opponents. Perhaps the activists achieve solidarity through belief and faith in a common ‘frame’: that is, that is, a common explanation of global problems, common assignments of cause and blame, common solutions, and the collective summoning of the forces needed to achieve them. The frame usually proposed is not anti-globalisation, since many activists accept the global as a setting for cultural exchange and political mobilization, or the level at which to regulate state and corporate actions. It is a frame of ‘global justice’, which explains a set of contemporary problems as consequences of neoliberal globalization, and which identifies solutions based on principles of social and environmental fairness, connected outwards to specific proposals concerning social provision, environmental protection, peace, trade, financial regulation, and human rights.

    A high proportion of northern GJM activists do endorse the global justice frame. But we should pause before concluding that this provides solidarity for the GJM as a whole. The global justice frame itself is unspecific, perhaps even vague. To name only the most widest cracks in the frame, there are no generally agreed principles of fairness, which is perhaps not surprising when the activists also readily self-identify as Marxists, anarchists, autonomists, Christian socialists, feminists, Greens of various shades and concerned liberals, each with their own concepts of social justice and its implications. These differences, indeed, have been particularly acute in the British GJM.

    Of course, frames do not need to be shared in exactly the same way by everyone to hold a movement together. They may ‘resonate’, or get adjusted through ‘diffusion’ to suit particular contexts, or may act as a ‘bridge’ across which distinct struggles can be connected. Nevertheless, if the argument is not to collapse into the circular and unfalsifiable claim that the global justice frame is simply whatever GJM activists understand their struggle to be about, then the frame must have some definite content. It must name problems, causes, culprits, and solutions. Yet it is far from agreed among activists what or whom should be named as the causal enemy of justice, let alone whether the solution is fairer arrangements within a reformed capitalist system, the replacement of capitalism with an alternative global system enforced on states and corporations by a strong world government, or a protectionist defence of the local against the global. Differences also arise over whether the institutions of global governance are part of the problem or part of the solution.

    Furthermore, the ‘framing’ data we have does not tell us whether activists from the global south frame these questions in the same terms or not. They include, after all, those whose resistance to globalization is articulated in terms of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism. To them, western ‘justice’ activists and aid workers are at least as much the enemy as western bankers. There is plenty of case study literature which suggests that the ‘bridging’ frames cannot take much weight, that the ‘resonance’ easily dissipates into silence, and that consequently the solidarity it produces is brittle.

    Another possibility is that solidarity is secured in different ways according to the orientation and ambition of the work the Global Justice Movement undertakes. Making such distinctions is the general approach I adopt in Other People’s Struggles. In Britain, three approaches can be distinguished. Some work involves the advocacy of crystallized interests and the battle to secure policy change (e.g. the campaigns to ban landmines, or secure government commitments on aid). Here the NGOs dominate, the work tends to be disjoint and does not prioritise solidarities. Anti-capitalist work, in contrast, attacks governments and global economic decision-makers, and seeks to maximize external pressure on the system to force it to change. The organized left is especially prominent. It is willing to confront the powerful on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves, in pursuit of goals that, so far as the left is concerned, are mostly crystallized, clear, and shared. The left hopes, in other words, to find a frame that resonates.

    But the most ambitious work – that of alter-globalization – differs again, and achieves solidarity in a further, new and distinct way. It resists the closure implied by the notion of a frame, even one which resonates. It wishes to remain open to ‘multiple worlds’, not settle for identifying and fixing the faults of this one. This suggests a third possibility for achieving solidarity: that it rests neither on shared precariousness, nor a common framing of the struggle, but on conjoint processes or practices which may or may not deliver usable frames. The problems which arise when different types of people, with different frames, attempt to work together, such as conflicts over unequal resources or resented dependencies, are neither ignored nor solved in advance. Instead, they are approached as unresolved problems in a certain spirit, according to certain ways of working, which themselves constitute the solidarity. Indeed, the differences may even be positively valued, for the multiple perspectives they bring to light.

    The primary work of the alter-globalization is neither the organized left’s attack on capitalism, nor NGO advocacy, but the development of alternatives, in the plural, through resistance to the homogenization created by neoliberal globalization. The NGOs, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, concentrated on single issues and conventional action repertoires in which they could become expert. Professionalism and specialisation, they believed, was the best way to carry weight with governments, bureaucrats, media experts and informed publics. Alter-globalization, by contrast, is multi-issue in focus. It seeks to influence not only governments and the institutions of global governance, but also mass publics. Unlike the organized left, moreover, it does so without an explicit frame in mind. Where it works in the power orientation, it pursues not the crystallized demand (e.g. the protection of acquired social rights) but the emergent one (e.g. contesting notions of economic ‘progress’ and ‘development’). Some want to disrupt the processes by which any hegemony is produced, including the development of an alternative master-frame. They try instead to foster creativity and multiply possibilities, all captured in the open-ended slogan ‘another world is possible’. Variety, in short, is what alter-globalization has in common.

    When it works in the expressive orientation, therefore, alter-globalization resists the closure of identities. Its identity statements tend to be more open, in way that can seem vague – ‘global citizens’ or indeed the ‘99%’ – but which are designed to express only the most loosely defined identities, and resists their closure to exclude anyone. Differences and diversity are neither sorted nor eliminated but are positively validated. Indeed, identities within the movement are constructed not prior to, but through participation. You become part of alter-globalization not by what you already are, but by what you do, and in particular what you become through protest.

    This approach to solidarity raises some old, and some new, difficulties, which I explore in greater depth in this paper. Alter-globalization has produced a new conception of the activist – ‘the girl who makes the puppets’ – quite unlike the paid, professional staffer of the NGO, the inactive ordinary charitable donor and the disciplined junior cadre of the left-wing party. It has also produced many innovative styles of protest and techniques for working together. Rather than hierarchy, command structures and professional elites, alter-globalization favours open deliberation, inclusivity, participatory democracy and tolerance. Rather than party schools, let alone through the professional training of the NGO staffer, alter-globalization produces its activists through new, flatter networked technologies. Rather than party structures or professional NGO-like organizations, it is characterised by the ‘affinity group’: a small number (around 4 – 20) of friends, or ‘friends of friends’, who converge because they presently hold some affective belief or purpose in common; and the ‘action group’ of those who assemble for a single action.

    On the face of it, alter-globalization has an approach to the problems of adherence quite unlike the others I explore in Other People’s Struggles. If participation is so informal, then there seems nothing to exclude anyone from being an active part of the movement. A hundred questions and uncertainties follow. How exactly do participants ‘belong’? Are there expectations, if not requirements and commitments, in belonging? What are the relationships between the participants, non-participants, and those who stand to benefit from the movement’s success? If there are no leaders, who speaks for the group? Are there experts and guides, and if so, how do they emerge and how are they held accountable? How are activists produced without someone disjointly training them? Although these questions all deserve detailed treatment, I focus on two of the most important for my theme: first, the possibility of the re-emergence of disjointness in the guise of an avant-garde; and secondly, the maintenance of collective belonging and commitment in a movement in which intense personal participation is so strong a motivating force.

    And so we return to the T shirts, which unwittingly depict this uncertainty to perfection. On the one hand, the double quotation marks indicate the directness of speech that alter-globalization is keen to foster. No one should be spoken for by others. On another hand, they indicate the ironic detachment that must now be felt for commitment, because of the way that personal freedom demands that one is never truly committed. And their third meaning – repetition – captured both in the logo and the T shirt itself: the opposite of uniform, which is both a personal, individualised statement and also endlessly replicable on demand to anyone who chooses to buy it.



    Solidarity in the Global Justice Movement










    If you would like to read the whole of this paper in draft, paperdartlogo_750_pinkplease click on the paper-dart logo and send me a message.


    Read More
    Feb 06

    Problems of vicarious anti-imperialism

    Problems of vicarious anti-imperialism

    In this paper written for my research project Other People’s Struggles, I examine the debate among Indian nationalists and anti-imperialists concerning the degree to which non-Indians could be involved in their struggle. This was a divisive and persistent question and yet it has hardly been studied. In the historiography of Indian nationalism, it has been assumed that reliance on non-Indians, and especially Britons, indicated an immature stage of the anti-colonial struggle. It was part of the ‘mendicant’ (or begging) approach to the British rulers favoured by Indian ‘moderates’, which was criticised by the so-called ‘extremists’ before the First World War, and abandoned when Gandhi took control of the Indian National Congress in 1920.

    In other writings, notably those produced by historians of British anti-imperialism, it has been assumed that, while the British were not always helpful anti-imperialists, the Indians were usually grateful for whatever help they got. However, I argue, Indian nationalists were never simply grateful. They regarded British help in a variety of ways: accepting it, rejecting it, seeking to mould it, working around it. Gratitude, where it was publicly offered, was sometimes privately resented. Rejection, when it occurred, was sometimes a matter of pure formality. Furthermore, the question of what role, if any, non-Indian helpers could play in the anti-colonial movement was not resolved in 1920. On the contrary, it persisted as an unresolved question up until Indian independence in 1947. Although Gandhi insisted on Indian self-reliance (swaraj), he also thought it important for the Indians, and vital for the British, that the latter remained engaged with the Indian struggle.


    But what form was this engagement to take?  As is well-known, the early Indian National Congress stated its demands in the form of petitions, as loyal British subjects of the Crown.  British rule, in its present form, was wrong for India, they argued, but it was also wrong for Britain. It was ‘un-British’ and ‘illiberal’.  This has often been regarded as a laughably weak way to make demands, properly superseded by more confrontational approaches which were made as Indians. In my view, however, the question of engagement was more complex. 

    The claim that rule in India was ‘un-British’ could carry some anti-imperialist charge, but its capacity to do so was caught in a paradoxical dependence on British validation.  The claim could be made  could be made conjointly or disjointly. It could be made disjointly from outside Britishness, in naming the ways that British rule failed to live up to the standards that the British had set themselves to respect. The characteristic charge was one of hypocrisy: that the British had let themselves down.  Alternatively it could be made from within Britishness, in demanding as British subjects the same privileges for Indians that the (white) British accorded themselves.   The characteristic, and sharper, charge was betrayal: that the British had broken faith with their own people. 

    The trouble with demands made from outside was that they could only prompt self-criticism on the part of the British. They invoked obligations the British had imposed on themselves, which might or might not trigger an enquiry by the British into their own behaviour. Such appeals were not hopeless: they required the British to effect some sort of reconciliation between the claimed and displayed manifestations of Britishness. But these were – in the terms I have used in Other People’s Struggles – relatively unambitious claims. They could only be phrased as reminders, suggestions, urgings or pleas, and not as demands.  The only demands that could be transmitted were those which resonated well with self-critical Britons, which in turn meant those which nested easily within an assimilating Britishness.

    The trouble with demands made from within was that they meant wresting Britishness away from the (white) British at precisely the time when Britishness was coming to be defined in more racial terms.  When makng demands from outside Britishness, the Indians only needed white allies who were prepared to criticise the British government in India on their behalf.  Of these self-critical Britons there was never any shortage.  But when making demands from within Britishness, the Indians required  something much rarer: white allies prepared to recognise the Indians as no less British than themselves.

    If Britishness could not be claimed on equal terms, then perhaps liberalism, which in principle belonged to everyone, might be?  Liberal argument could be used to justify certain basic freedoms in India, such as a free press, appointment to posts by competitive merit, the rule of law, and responsible government. Such arguments sometimes managed to put the British on the back foot. But the Indians struggled to achieve co-ownership. Liberalism, British thinkers believed, could not be mechanically applied in settings so different to those for which it had been devised.   It had to be interpreted, translated and adapted.  This was work which the British reserved to themselves.  They would be the judges of good and bad adaptations, of permissible and impermissible adjustments. No matter how close the British Indians got to the judicial bench, it remained slightly out of reach. Like their command of the English language, their claim to interpret liberalism was ruled inadequate either through its imperfections, or through the imperfection of its perfection.


    Despite the implications of their name, the Indian extremists did not seek to intensify pressure at the same points as those singled out by the British Indians.   They aimed to broaden support in India to reach social groups hitherto untouched by elite politics.   Their tactics were demonstration, boycott, social ostracism and in some cases, political violence, rather than petition. They aimed to mobilise and harness popular movements concerned with the defence of traditional Hindu cultural and religious practices against British intrusion.  

    The British had always been prepared to recognise difference, as a means of rebalancing support for their rule. But the extremist politicians wanted more. Recognition assigned Indian difference to a subordinate place within the larger scheme of British rule, rather than acknowledging that it constituted a civilisation in its own right. Indian civilisation must therefore be protected from British influence either by withdrawing from it, or – the polarised alternative – violent confrontation. Indians must, however, firmly reject any middle course of explanation or negotiation. For this reason, the extremists had almost no interest in adherents. They were prepared to sacrifice intelligibility among adherents for the greater support and integrity they expected to derive from re-indigenising the struggle.

    For those who favoured violent confrontation, the nationalist virtues were those of the ksatriya, the male, upper-caste warrior defined to counter the colonial stereotype of the effeminate Bengali intellectual.   The ksatriya exhibited daring, which the extremists contrasted with the deferential mendicancy of the British Indians. Even if concessions could be won by asking (which the extremists doubted), this would not amount to real freedom, which had to be seized rather than passively received at the hands of others.  For those who favoured withdrawal rather than violence, on the other hand, the necessary sacrifice would be a self-sacrifice, and their corresponding ideal was not the military ksatriya but the monkish sanyasi, whose bravery took the form of self-denial.

    British adherents were not only unnecessary for this form of struggle, but positively dangerous. They embodied the force-field from which nationalists had to extricate themselves.  For some, this meant a firm break with all things British, including the severing of the ties of friendship that had grown up between the British Indians and self-critical Britons. The extremist strategy of dissociation – the refusal or breaking of social ties with the British, no matter how apparently sympathetic – immensely distressed the British ‘friends of India’.  Violence confused them even more.  The British understood why the ‘uncivilized’ might resort to force. But they were flummoxed when western-educated Indians turned to violence.  The 1909 assassination in London of the official Sir Curzon Wyllie by the engineering student Madan Lal Dhingra was inexplicable to those who thought that Wyllie’s primary official responsibility – that of integrating elite Indians students into British life – made him the least likely target imaginable. The British Indians in London, and their British friends, tied themselves in knots trying to explain the assassination away as an aberrant consequence of madness or intoxication, rather than what it was: the conscious refusal of British influence which others had expressed through dissociation.

    The extremists’ strategies meant a break with the metropole and towards adherents located there.   As the British Indians pointed out, this meant giving up leverage in Britain.  When the authorities in India moved firmly against the extremists, subjecting them to censorship, harassment and harsh sentencing, they got, nor sought, help from British allies.   Doing without adherents, however, left the extremists exposed to the full coercive force of the raj. 


    One consequence of the dangerous friendliness of the British adherent was that ambitious anti-imperialists largely abandoned the metropole after the First World War.   The principal struggle took place, of course, in India, but there were also other possibilities for adherence beyond her shores, somewhere other than Britain. Two other approaches to adherence proposed themselves.  First, there was the global anti-colonial network of lateral connections excluding or marginalising the British.  Secondly, there was Gandhism. Both of these strategies sought to break free of the mutual attractions and repulsions of Britain and India and replace them with a different field of forces.

    In the global network, India’s adherents would be other presently- or formerly-colonised peoples, with the addition of some supporters from the non-colonised states, especially Britain’s imperial rivals. Hope for such alliances drew Indian anti-imperialists to world cities where they could build links with other non-British opponents of colonialism. Berlin, Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, and New York were all examples. The global cities were bases free of British control for winning support and funds, for thinking, writing and planning, all without the distorting complications of Britishness.[ Better still, they afforded the chance to meet and interact with other opponents of colonialism, drawing on their experiences, beliefs and strategies. 

    There were three approaches to networking. Some of the networkers were ‘clandestine’ Indians who simply wanted to hide their Indianness from others while they regrouped in secret. Although they moved globally, their aims were not really global at all, but rather to repatriate Indian revolution from foreign settings.  They hoped to exploit inter-imperial rivalries between governments, such as those between Britain and France before 1905, for example, and later on between Britain and Germany, the USA, Japan, and the Soviet Union.  However, although Britain’s rivals were prepared to turn a blind eye to anti-imperialists, or even offer some rhetorical endorsement of their struggle for freedom, substantial help proved harder to extract.  In peacetime, the British used their diplomatic weight to persuade the Indians’ hosts not to assist them, as well as organising a global intelligence operation to keep them under surveillance and at a safe distance from India’s borders. In wartime, Britain’s geopolitical rivals were not so much interested in assisting the nationalists to a quick victories, as in tying the British up for as long as possible with irksome military commitments.

    The second ‘networking’ approach was to work not with foreign governments but with other victims of colonialism. With them, the Indians could share experiences, tactical choices and analytical perspectives. Anti-colonialism would be formed laterally between seeming peripheries, rather than reflected from a metropolitan source in the manner favoured by the British Indians, or made in isolation, in the manner of the extremists.  The hope of these networkers was to build multiply-stranded, web-like, non-hierarchical networks, which framed their struggle in a manner which did not implicitly devalue those of other colonised peoples. However, since national struggles rarely aligned well, collaboration was more a matter of reconciling the pulls of distinct causes.

    The third networking approach, and arguably the most successful, was co-operation between itinerant Indian nationalists and fellow Indians already settled overseas. Relations of trust were almost always more easily established among fellow-Indians than they were with the British or other foreigners. This was especially true of those Indians who had settled settled elsewhere than Britain or the ‘British world’, and thereby managed to avoid the gravitational field of Britishness. The most successful functioned as small, concentrated cells of professional revolutionaries, linked by common ethnic identities and experiences, and suspicious of adherent ‘friends of India’ whom it was harder to trust. Such networks of compatriots were also less vulnerable to betrayal from within to the authorities.

    On balance, however, we should be sceptical that networks, rather than nationally-rooted mass freedom movements, were central to the global force that anti-imperial ideas came to carry. Networks that ran through the metropole were almost always weakened by it, and an anti-imperialism networked around the periphery seems to have suited the British officials quite well. They believed that the networkers could do little harm provided they could neither make it back to India undetected, nor persuade a powerful foreign government to back them. As a consequence, many networkers treated their foreign locations as places in which to hide, or contact fellow Indians, rather than working openly so as to draw on local support. Whatever gestures of mutual friendliness they made to foreign adherents, they kept them at a distance from what mattered. The most telling evidence is that nationalists in India very rarely saw much worth their support in the networks, which would be an odd error if they were full of resistant potential.


    The fourth and final approach to adherence was the Gandhian one. Gandhi’s position on the contribution that adherents, and especially British adherents, might make was distinct from all three of the positions so far examined. He differed from the extremists in his openness to external influence. Gandhi held that all cultures were equally worthy, but imperfect, and therefore needed to learn from each other through unconstrained interaction. He did not practise dissociation and incorporated many European writers’ ideas into his own thinking. Anyone, from anywhere (including Britain) could be a fellow searcher for Truth (a satyagrahi).

    However, Gandhi disliked representation, because it denied the unexpressed truth that was in other people. This was his principal difference from the British Indians. Where the British Indians had wanted the Indians to learn Britishness, Gandhi argued the British must learn Indianness. The British were open to appeals to their good nature, but also slow to see any need to change themselves. They believed themselves the most politically advanced nation. Their anti-colonialism would naturally be the most advanced too. They had no idea that civilisation and politics might be Indian strengths. Gandhi therefore wanted to dislodge self-critical Britons from the position they had assumed at the head of every struggle for freedom. Colonialism had impoverished them too. Gandhi therefore rejected the British Indians’ deference, and the extremists’ hostility and indifference.

    Satyagrahis had to be called to action by their inner voices, and Gandhi expected that this would normally direct them to work in a fixed locality. This was the principal difference between his position and that of the Indian networkers. Gandhi favoured the small laboratory community of the ashram, linked to the outside world by visitors, journalism and postal correspondence, but also living its own local, deep conjointness. Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, he did not recommend, let alone adopt, the nomadic practices of the cosmopolitan Indian networkers. He did not travel much outside India himself, especially once his politics had matured after 1917. He also thought that satyagrahis should stay where they were, addressing the local problems that their search for truth had raised for them and those they knew. He did not want his British satyagrahis to become Indian, but to become better Britons. Facing such exacting demands, the British satyagrahis were never numerous, despite Gandhi’s hopes. He probably underestimated British self-confidence in the universal reach of its civilisation and its consequent refusal to submit to any tests other that those it set itself.


    Metropolitan anti-imperialism cannot be understood simply as the degree to which the British could rouse themselves to engage in other people’s struggles. It was also the creation of those the British intended to help. The colonised stimulated metropolitan anti-imperialists, by challenging them to new understandings of their nation’s actions. But they also checked and subdued them. The British adherents were not permitted to go wherever their sympathies took them, but only where the colonised let them. The boundaries were set according to the various perspectives the colonised adopted on the nature of their struggle, especially concerning its orientation and ambition.

    Because the British did not appreciate this partitioning of the space, they thought it was more generally open to them than it was. They therefore tended to blunder around in it, and were puzzled and hurt when their sympathies hit unseen boundaries: when, for example, they unaccountably failed to win people over, or were rebuffed. This felt like a rejection of friendship because they could imagine no other obstacle to the irresistible – it is tempting to say imperial – reach of their sympathies. Since sensitivity to getting these things wrong was also a function of the orientation and ambition of the struggle, the offence could be very great, or artificially exaggerated; internally suppressed, or furiously explosive.

    One consequence, common whenever these sympathies encountered the ambitious, was a bruised retreat from ‘difficult’, or ‘overly sensitive’ Indians. Perhaps British and Indians would never understand each other sufficiently to be friends; perhaps ‘not now, not yet’. Those who thought of themselves as ‘friends of India’ were puzzled by the hatred and anger their nation seemed to have attracted from some Indians. They put it down to the racism of cruder imperialists, and the personal slights that nationalists had suffered at their hands. Indeed, as is so common in the history of adherence, one of the most maddening qualities of the ‘helpers’ was that they denied the ‘helped’ the full range of positionings they claimed for themselves. The British friends might be roused or calm, cautious or rash, and, whichever of these they were, judicious. The sensibilities of the colonised, by contrast, were damaged: they could only be dissatisfied, hurt, sullen and angry and swayed by animus (and of course, understandably so).

    But the various stances taken by the colonised towards their helpers did not have much to do with friendship. They grew logically out of work in different orientations and ambitions. The extremists did not hate the British because they had been slighted. It is quite possible to imagine them moving as friends among the British as freely as had the British Indians. But dissociation was necessary for the kind of work they had in mind. Similarly the networkers, for the most part, did better without the British, and best of all with their own compatriots. The British Indians, in contrast, found adherents more easily, especially among the self-critical white British, but only for disjoint work of a relatively unambitious kind: the pursuit of the crystallized interest of home rule, within the empire, through structures the white British dominated. British ‘friends of India’ were prepared to allow ‘parasitic’ support right up until independence in 1947. It too sufficed provided anti-imperialists were prepared to redescribe their struggle in someone else’s vocabulary. Only Gandhi managed to combine ambitious work with conjointness. But outside India, and especially in Britain, the numbers he could attract as true satyagrahis were never large.



    Read More
    Dec 30

    Pity would be no more

    In his poem The Human Abstract, one of the Songs of Experience first published in 1794, William Blake wrote that:

    Pity would be no more,
    If we did not make somebody poorwhite_colon

    In an earlier manuscript draft, shown to the right, Blake had crossed out a different line. It read:

    Pity could be no more
    If there was nobody poor

    This change suggests that Blake wanted to emphasise that it is neither natural nor accidental that some people are poor, but a consequence of human action, indeed action by us, the same people who do the pitying.


    But the change also bears a further interpretation: that it is in the pitying that we make people poor. It is not only that we could not pity people had we not already made them poor. If that were all Blake had meant, he could have used the past perfect tense:

    Pity would be no more,
    If we had not made somebody poorwhite_colon

    Nor does Blake want to offer us an easy and innocent way to put this right in the future. If that were all he meant, he could have written a hopeful open conditional:

    Pity shall be no more,
    If we do not make somebody poorwhite_colon

    Instead, in the published version, Blake uses the modal preterite did. The word did does not indicate that the action – not making somebody poor – is completed and in the past, but that it is remote (i.e. unlikely or not the case). Did indicates the unlikelihood of our not making somebody poor. The claim is what grammarians call a remote conditional. Blake, I think, means something like this:

    Pity would be no more,
    If we did not make somebody poor

    (But we do / we did / we will do)

    However, while the modality is remote, the time envisaged is unspecific. It could be past, or present, or future, or – probably the most natural reading – time in general. The implication is that we are in the habit of making somebody poor. It is not just something that we have done in the past, but that we do again when we pity them.

    In suggesting this, Blake also satirises the apologetic view, held by some in his time, that the existence of poverty was in at least one respect fortunate: in providing the opportunity for the virtuous exercise of pity. He does so by employing ambiguity of voice. In altering his first line from ‘Pity could be no more’, to ‘Pity would be no more’ Blake changed the proposition from a statement of indisputable logical necessity which anyone might make, to a falsifiable prediction which invites us to wonder whom we are hearing speak.

    And when we wonder who speaks, we find that Blake has rendered the answer thoroughly unclear. It is, after all, possible to read the first two lines as though spoken by someone who holds the apologetic view. Something valuable – pity – would be lost if poverty were abolished. Blake was certainly aware of this possible reading, because in I heard an angel singing, another manuscript poem left out of the published Songs of Experience, he gives very similar words to a Devil’s curse.

    I heard a Devil curse
    Over the heath & the furze
    Mercy could be no more
    If there was nobody poor

    And pity no more could be
    If all were as happy as we
    At his curse the sun went down
    And the heavens gave a frown


    But in The Human Abstract we are not told who is speaking. It is perfectly possible to read such lines as though spoken by someone who seeks the abolition both of poverty and of its cause and effect: an insufferably disjoint pity. The words as published might be spoken by Devil or Angel. They express both innocence and experience in a single phrase:

    Pity would be no more
    If we did not make somebody poorwhite_colon

    After unsettling the reader in this way, and making a similarly ambiguous double-statement about mercy and unhappiness, Blake explains how we have got to the position in which both Devil and Angel could say the same thing. The rest of the poem is a devastating account of how we rationally persuade ourselves that the suffering we pity is not of our making and that we are acting meritoriously in pitying it, and how our pity thereby becomes corrupted – a selfish love – in its dependence on this unacknowledged suffering.

    And Mercy no more could be,
    If all were as happy as we

    And mutual fear brings peacewhite_semicolon
    Till the selfish loves increase.
    Then Cruelty knits a snare,
    And spreads his baits with care.

    He sits down with holy fears,
    And waters the ground with tearswhite_colon
    Then Humility takes its root
    Underneath his foot.

    Soon spreads the dismal shade
    Of Mystery over his headwhite_semicolon
    And the Catterpiller and Fly,
    Feed on the Mystery.

    And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
    Ruddy and sweet to eatwhite_semicolon
    And the Raven his nest has made
    In its thickest shade.

    The Gods of the earth and sea
    Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
    But their search was all in vainwhite_colon
    There grows one in the Human Brain.


    For Blake, pity is, among other things, a trap that we have made for ourselves. It draws us closer to those whom we wish to help, at the same time as it raises us above them. Those who pity are abstracted from the suffering of others. Pity creates condescension even as it seeks closeness. Worse still, we have made ourselves unaware that it does so, because in pitying we so heartily approve of ourselves. Pity, once made abstract by priests and scholars – the Catterpiller and Fly of Blake’s poem – mystifies and corrupts true relationships with others. We have become, through reason and abstraction, incapable of feeling in an immediate, warm, human way towards others.

    However, Blake, as he often did in describing contraries, is not simply denouncing the sophistry of pitying. He is identifying something internally contradictory in pity, corresponding to the ‘two contrary states of the human soul’ that structure the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Yes, the apologetic justification of poverty is self-serving nonsense. But righteous denunciation of suffering is an insufficient response. It pretends to be uncorrupted by what it criticizes, and sets itself above it, as though it were not otherwise implicated. But since there can be no such uncorrupted perspective, such indignation is hypocritical too. We are caught up in the suffering that we witness, and we are mistaken if we think we can help while remaining outside, or above, it.

    Furthermore, a naïve faith in pity is also insufficient. Blake concludes Holy Thursday, one of the Songs of Innocence, which describes an eerily regimented congregation of charity children, with the following line:

    Then cherish pity lest you drive an angel from your door.

    But even this seemingly innocent maxim undercuts itself, in providing a prudential, self-interested reason for virtue. Our feelings for others are also our feelings: concern for what comes to our door. To cherish, after all, is to value, or to hold dear. The innocent naïvely and falsely counterpose pity to selfishness, failing to see that pity also depends on selfishness. Human pity has to be – in at least one important sense – selfish. It belongs to us; we value it; and we hold it dear. This is both what makes it function, and corrupts it.

    Blake is therefore not contrasting alternatives, but describing and criticising two contrary but mutually sustaining states. Reason divides our motives neatly in two: selfishness just for ourselves, and altruism just for others. But this is not the way that humans feel pity.


    This seems to me a powerful insight. Pity in the eighteenth century, after all, was both one of the great forces behind the support given to social and humanitarian movements, such as the anti-slavery campaign. At the same time, it was also, and among the same people, a sign of the supporters’ refined sensibilities. To feel wounded by accounts of slavery was a sign of one’s civilized sensitivity to the pain of others, of fine feelings unshared by the slaves who felt only their own pain. That this disjointness, as I term it in Other People’s Struggles, did not diminish the effectiveness of the anti-slavery movement – I argue that it may well have enhanced it – shows how correct Blake was to identify its doubleness.

    Blake was also right to contrast the disjoint sympathy of pity with the spontaneous, warm, reciprocal concern that grows up between those similarly placed. Think of the conjoint, mutual, unmoralizing sympathies of the child-sweeps in The Chimney Sweeper, another of the Songs of Innocence, and contrast them with the disjoint, moralized, institutionalized charity of Holy Thursday.

    Since Blake’s time, we have learned to be even more suspicious than he was of fine feelings as motives for helping behaviour. Pity has to a large extent been displaced by empathy, a form of fellow-feeling which seeks to diminish the distance between us and the suffering. Through imagination, and sometimes more than that, we seek conjointness.

    Yet, to a degree that its advocates seem hardly to realize, empathy has in turn been made problematic by the proliferation of claims of unrecognized difference. If it is patronizing to pity others, it is often disrespectful to imagine that one can share others’ pain. Conjointness has proved elusive, and not only to outsiders, but also to those who seek to build their movements around shared identities and common predicaments.


    Social movements are a good place to examine these changes. How has the place of the outside sympathizer changed since social movements first began to appear in the late eighteenth century? Has it become especially problematic today? Or was it always so? Does it arise in every type of movement and activity, or only in some? Why, how and when do outsiders choose to participate in other people’s struggles? Why, how and when are they welcome? What sort of problems does their participation raise, and how have they been addressed? Can they, indeed, be solved?

    My book Other People’s Struggles is an attempt to answer some of these questions. It proposes a theory to explain why, when and how outsiders participate in within social movements, and tests it with a series of historical case studies, ranging in time from the late eighteenth century anti-slavery movement to the anti-globalization movements of the present day.

    You can find out more about the structure and contents of the book by clicking here. But before we leave Blake, let me finish by saying something about what I take from him, since he doesn’t appear in Other People’s Struggles.

    There are three things especially worth consideration:

    First, Blake suggests that the motivations of those who sympathise with others from outside are not simple. Their ‘selfless acts’, and their motivating feelings, as well as the feelings they arouse in the objects of their sympathies, are complex and contradictory. They are a matter of experience as well as innocence.

    Secondly, he shows that the contradictions are caught up in each other. They are, in the proper sense of the word, ambivalent. The voices of innocence and experience cannot easily be separated. They emerge from a common source, and they interact.

    Thirdly, Blake tells us where, after a long search, we will find this source. It lies, he suggests, in the Human Brain.







    Read More
    Dec 12

    Conjointness restored?

    In this chapter from Other People’s Struggles, I look at contemporary problems concerning adherence: that is, participation in a social movement by those who are not motivated to participate by standing to benefit from the movement’s success. Elsewhere I have looked at how such problems have presented themselves historically. In Other People’s Struggles itself, I look at the classical dilemmas that have arisen from a more theoretical perspective.  But in this chapter I examine the adherent today.

    The contemporary dilemma, I suggest, can be summed up in the following paradox:

    “The contemporary adherent must be what she cannot be.”

    The paradox is the consequence of three commitments – or ‘threads’ – which pull in different directions.

    The first thread is that of altruistic self-motivation. In an earlier chapter of Other People’s Struggles, I argue that we can only understand what the adherent does if we allow that she is motivated by concern for others, and not for herself. But this concern is nonetheless her concern. It belongs to her. Unless she is a saint, the altruistic adherent cannot deny herself completely. She needs to preserve the essence of her self so that she can give of herself. She has beliefs that matter to her, a history that has shaped her and made her who she is, and obligations and duties that, for all that they benefit others, are hers. This is, moreover, all the more important today, in the era of the self-actualising self. The self is now more than ever a self that we make for ourselves, rather than a selfhood into which we are born.

    “The contemporary adherent responds as an individual (she must decide for herself), without being an individualist (only she matters). She is concerned with her self, not selfish.”

    The second thread is the obligation to be attentive to the needs of others. Self-actualisation is not to be confused with selfishness. Indeed, self-actualisation might easily involve defining oneself as someone who helps others. As Charles Taylor suggests, we still largely operate with the same moral concerns as we have throughout the modern period: the reduction of unnecessary suffering and universal benevolence. We still have notions of progress, of ‘going beyond our ancestors’, and of moral improvement. If anything, our moral commitments have widened and grown. There is still an undiminished expectation that historically privileged adherents will support other people’s struggles, not out of advantage but principle. The adherent is privileged, therefore more must be expected of him. He expects more of himself too. He cannot let himself go, because his motivating values and his self-actualisation depend on a helping orientation to others.

    “In the past moral commitments followed from a certain inherited or newly chosen position, they now imply an actualisation of self.

    “The difficulty that the adherent presents is not that the she sacrifices herself for others, but that she realizes herself through others.”

    The third thread is the necessity for the adherent to change himself according to others’ prescriptions in order to participate fully. The adherent must not only attend to the needs of others, but also examine and change himself along lines that others determine. The adherent has to change because his unacknowledged historical privilege has collapsed. It has been undermined by exterior challenges to his authority, which has been accompanied by, and helped to cause, an interior collapse, not of confidence – the adherent still possesses a strongly self-realizing self – but of authority. The adherent’s claims to special experience and knowledge have become disputed. He has to change, as he knows; and he cannot participate, as he must; unless he does so.

    “If, in the modern period, the self became autonomous; in the late modern period, it becomes insecure.”

    As a consequence, unless something gives, the adherent must be something he cannot be. He can neither be released to himself and his own concerns, nor can he be allowed to efface himself, nor can he act for others as he once did.

    Identity politics, in the classic form in which I examined it elsewhere, is characterised by this knot at its tightest. Whether out of a residual sense of entitlement on the part of the adherent, or residual expectations on the part of the constituents, the adherent is caught between obligation and impossibility. Identity politics can relax its grip on neither the second thread, which would release the adherent from obligation; nor the third thread, which would admit him to the movement as he is. Thus, the first thread is the one to ‘give’: the adherent can no longer self-actualise through other people’s struggles, and becomes demotivated.

    “Attention is now demanded for an adherent self which can neither be accepted as it is, nor ignored, nor changed at the behest of others.”

    In this respect, constituents – those motivated as beneficiaries of the movement’s goals – are differently placed. Fighting their own struggles, they find it easier to reconcile autonomy, self-actualisation and the pursuit of improvement. The values that support their conjoint activities, I conjecture, remain robust and interact positively. All three sustain the rising tendency and capability of people hitherto spoken for by others to speak for themselves. The congruence of the three impulses has sustained conjoint work to create new associations, representing and speaking for new interests and identities.

    The problem for adherents is that the values pull in different directions. If self-actualisation is what matters most to them, their concern for others will be most readily activated when it allows them to maintain a strong sense of self and freedom in what they do. They will find it harder to participate in other people’s struggles if they are expected to be other than they are, or place themselves in relationships of dependency. Contemporary adherents may therefore have to separate their lives in ways that constituents do not. This is another way of saying that contemporary adherents, if these values are important to them, cannot give themselves wholly to other people’s struggles.

    Political consciousness – an awareness of what people need and how it might be supplied by them and others – has been awkwardly supplemented by self–consciousness on the part of the adherent.”

    Can the knot be untied and conjointness restored? In contemporary theory, I discern five distinct approaches to this question. Two approaches try to loosen our grip on one of the threads – first, the obligation; or, second, the impossibility – so as to untie the knot. Three further approaches accept that the knot cannot be untied. The third recommends that we slice it through and live unabashed by disjointness. The fourth and fifth propose that disjointness itself – acceptance of the knot’s knottiness – can paradoxically form a basis for conjointness.


    The first set of approaches relax the obligation that ‘we must be’ what we cannot be. It allows that the adherent need not seek to be what he cannot be. He is different. He lacks the credentials to speak for anyone else, and he should not try to do so. In their strongest form, such approaches may exclude the adherent altogether. But other approaches, which I discuss in the chapter, attempt to work across differences. Conjointness is sought by deliberating with others at a suitably respectful distance. Activists remain distinct in themselves, but seek solidarity by making a common commitment to procedures that enable everyone to be heard speaking uninterruptedly and only for themselves. old_style_loosen_cropI have in mind approaches such as the politics of ‘recognition’, of ‘translation’, of ‘intersectionality’ and ‘equivalence’. Such approaches vary in the closeness they envisage between activists. But they all try to lighten the expectation that solidarity requires sameness, while preserving the idea that struggles are distinct entities which might co-operate without losing their distinctness.

    I argue that these approaches seem likely to produce mutual respectfulness, but may find it harder to produce the closer, deeper relationships – the deep affections, the emotional passion, and warmth – that some movements (especially those oriented inwardly) want to generate among activists. Cautious respect can acknowledge an antagonism which can in principle be lessened through encounters. But there can be no guarantee that a deeper understanding will be achieved. Adherents are not exactly denied entry. But since no one can speak for anyone else, adherents can only speak as adherents.


    A second approach proposes relaxing ‘impossibility’ (the third thread), so as to enable obligation (the first thread) to be unknotted. It challenges the idea that ‘we cannot be’ what we must be. The tension between the two threads only arises, it argues, because the self is conceived as insufficiently changeable to be capable of belonging to something other than itself. But perhaps late modern selves are no longer like this. Our identities are not expression of a true essence (what we really are), but the political production of an effect of essence and naturalness through performance. If all there is to our identities is repeated performance, and each repetition is different, it is perhaps open to us to twist, subvert, or pervert what we seem to be. Perhaps conjointness can be produced performatively, in a shared, subversive undoing of identities alongside others.

    This seems attractive, but some movements may think it over-optimistic. The possibility that we can become what we want through performative choices may over-estimate the ease with which identities can be chosen or reconfigured. Identities may be produced through performance but that does not mean that we choose our performances and hence our identities as freely as costumes. Identities may not be natural or essential, but there are nonetheless already-existing constraining structures of identification which fix identities, at least for a certain time, often in antagonistic relationships with each other, and make us performers of performances we do not altogether choose, or the tellers of stories that are already written for us by culture and discourse. Identities may well be ‘just’ socially constructed, but it is an elementary error to think that this implies that they are easily changed. This applies to everyone, constituent and adherent alike, but especially so for adherents because the structures have tended to fix them in the wrong place to help.


    A third ‘unabashed’ response refuses to be tied down by the knot, and deals with it as Alexander did the Gordian knot. To the claim that the adherent ‘must be what he cannot be’ before he can act, it retorts, ‘Then be!’, or perhaps ‘Then do!’. The trouble with other approaches, it might be suggested, is that they are overly respectful of the value of fighting one’s own battles. They romanticise the position of the constituents, who are actually engaged desperate struggles against the odds. They often need the help of outsiders to win. Perhaps, though it is hardly fashionable to suggest it, they need the perspectives, the politicization and discipline that only engaged outsiders can bring. The excessive scruples that some adherents display – their fastidious concern not to speak in the name of others – amount to an excuse for inaction, and a way of avoiding taking sides. Such an adherent insists that the problem is solved for them already before they will deign to help solve it. Rather than wait for permission before acting in solidarity with constituents, adherents should simply take sides and act. If they do so, they will be justified not by permission obtained in advance, but retroactively by their success. So, act!

    It is easy to see the advantages of this approach when constituents are relatively weak, and also when they are relatively indifferent to the means by which their goal is reached. There are also clear attractions for adherents. In taking sides, or even command, they will at least be judged by what they do, rather than what they are presumed to be. The obvious contrast, however, is with the prefigurative approaches I explore elsewhere in the book, such as those of the utopian socialists, in which participants wish to begin with the equality that elsewhere is sought as the end. For these movements, unabashed adherents may seem impatient, hasty, keen on revolutionary heroics whose price others will end up paying. And constituents undertaking this sort of work will naturally worry that the adherents, with their historic grasp, may appropriate or impede the directions that the movement might otherwise take.


    The fourth approach does not try to loosen the knot, or slice it through. Instead, it accepts the knotty combination of impossibility and obligation, but refuses to regard it as grounds for despair or inaction. We – adherents and constituents – differ too much for there to constitute ourselves as a single community. We can have no project, or direction, in common. But perhaps this lack is what we share. Conjointnesss between constituents and adherents might be achievable precisely through its own incompleteness or its own failure. What we might share is not sameness, but disjointness itself: the impossibility of being the same. Disjointness is not an obstacle to conjointness, but the condition of conjointness to come, if there is any. Perhaps, indeed, this is the most that conjointness can logically be. At the limit, a deeper conjointness – a total ‘communion’ – would abolish solidarity between distinct elements. Any relationship between the self and the another – whether between constituents or between an adherent and a constituent – involves separation. Without separation one cannot speak of a relationship at all. Pure conjointness – the notion that a social movement can be an undifferentiated unity, a perfect ‘oneness’ – is thus impossible. It could only do so by ceasing to be comprised of relationships between participants. Solidarity is only meaningful between elements which are neither already complete-in-themselves, nor made complete-in-themselves by their relationship with others. So it may be that the most we can have in common is the absence or lack of things-in-common.

    Such foundations, clearly, cannot be deep or secure. The question is what can be built on top of them, and whether what is built can be shared. Everything turns on what precisely we lack and whether we lack the same things. We are told, as it might be, that we are all displaced, or unmoored, or ultimately vulnerable to each other, or insufficient, or incomplete. But either this is true but shallow – like sharing human DNA – and therefore too feeble to form the basis for common action. Or it is deep but false: we don’t all share the same position. The precariousness of the adherent’s selfhood – the lack of secure metaphysical foundations – is not the same as, and less pressing than, the precariousness of everyday life for the constituent. Indeed, life can be quite agreeable without metaphysical foundations if everything else is place. The postmodern adherent can, perhaps, be confident in his capacity to stay on his feet. He does well on shifting sands, helping others in their struggles to keep their footing. But that, though it may be valuable, is a disjoint form of work. The precariousness that provides flexibility, daring and freedom for some is a source of grief and anxiety to others. Similar arguments, I suspect, apply to other ‘lacks’: common ungroundedness, or inauthenticity, or a shared vulnerability, or precariousness, or dislocation, or dependency.


    The fifth approach, which I take from Jacques Rancière, proposes another way for the adherent to act ‘as if’ she were something other than she is, and yet in solidarity with others. Conjointness can be achieved through the adherent making an ‘impossible identification’ with ‘those who have no part’. The adherent does not change herself, performatively or otherwise, to become the constituent. But she still makes an identification, helping to create a new political subject, speaking both in the name of the despised group, and also, crucially for solidarity, in the name of anyone and everyone. The supplementation is not the acceptance of impossibility as the logical condition of possibility, but a supplementary act of identification which is a founding presumption of the equality of everyone with everyone else. The wrong was done to a particular group, but in denying the classification that defines that group, the adherent asserts that it could have been done to anyone. The unified subject does not form before acting and it is not the result of acting. It emerges in the acting. It forms neither in the name of an abstract universal ideal of equality, nor simply in the name of a specific local struggle against a limited wrong, but by linking the two. The adherent cannot be what she must be, but she can still act in solidarity with others through making impossible identifications with those who have no part.

    This has certain advantages for the problems we have been considering. Within the movement, no use can be made of the usual claims to rule on the basis of superior knowledge, insight or experience. Nor can anyone impose a hierarchy of belonging. This must also mean that the constituents have to forego the claim that the adherents are not their equals in understanding. The unified subject they create together has no identity other than that of the equality of all speaking persons. Constituents do not have to abandon their difference, but they cannot simply enact it. They cannot deny the adherents the possibility that they might understand enough about the situation to act as their equals.

    Like the other proposals, this is therefore not a general solution to the problems of adherence. Some constituents, after all, seek admission to an existing classification. Others wish to add their own category to the police order, or secure an advantageous reclassification. For Rancière, such re-classifying does not even amount to politics at all. For him politics is by definition declassifying. But such movements do exist, and we should note that they may not want the adherent to make an impossible identification with them. On the other hand, some movements do wish to declassify themselves, and to assert an equality that belongs to everyone. In these cases (struggles for everyone), the possibilities for conjoint work with adherents (struggles with everyone) are more promising.


    None of these five approaches offers a general solution to the knot I have described. The disjoint relationships of the past, it seems, have not been replaced by conjoint ones, but rather by missing or absent relationships. More precisely, social movements engaged in disjoint work remain haunted by the two figures who can be neither admitted nor dismissed: the constituent who can’t quite be included, and the adherent who can’t quite be excluded. The adherent, where she can still be found, employs various forms of pretence and disguise, whether accepting ironic, tragi-comic failure, making outrageous identifications or acting unabashed, or staging ‘impossible’ forms of participatory act and performance.

    Whether or not these can successfully achieve conjointness remains an unresolved and complex question. But we can, perhaps, conclude that these stances differ quite markedly from the less questioned confidence of past relationships.

    In the next chapter of Other People’s Struggles, I consider a final approach: that of ‘becoming—‘. ‘Final’ is probably the wrong word, because the approach is, so much as it can be, an entirely open-ended one. The dilemma of the contemporary adherent is that ‘she must be what she cannot be’. Against the five approaches I have described here – “Loosen the obligation”, “Deny the impossibility”, “Act anyway”, “Share the incompleteness”, and “Begin with equality”, this approach enjoins us to “Become what we cannot be”.


    Read More
    Jul 08

    The Search for Socialist Fellowship

    In this paper from my research project on Other People’s Struggles, I examine how wealthy Victorian socialists addressed questions of solidarity and fellowship. My focus is the degree to which the socialists thought their own lives needed to change in order to play the roles (which were of course diverse) they assigned to themselves and those like them in the socialist movement. I am interested in whether, when and how the disjointnesses of background and experience and present positioning – wealth, privilege, modes of living and so on – were perceived as problematic for an emerging socialist movement, what solutions were proposed and adopted, and how successful they were.

    To provide some focus, I will examine four distinct views on this question in 1883, the year of the great Socialist revival in Britain. They come from three men who each declared himself a socialist in that year: William Morris, Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw, and two who had already done so: Sidney Webb and Belfort Bax.Morris_smooth_leaf

    Of the ways that Socialist Fellowship is made

    The first case I consider is William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and businessman. Morris was perpetually troubled by the ‘great class gulf’ that impeded true fellowship among socialists. For him, socialism was not just a set of beliefs one might entertain, but a prefigurative social practice which must be lived. What he wanted most for workers was not improved labour organisation, nor electoral independence, nor even the acceptance of socialist doctrine, but a whole-hearted embrace and exemplification of fellowship in ordinary life. Socialism for the rich was not only a matter of encouraging workers to achieve solidarity among themselves. The rich could not live as though indifferent to the sources of their wealth, but needed somehow to renounce it and its horrible provenance in capitalist exploitation. They too must achieve fellowship with the workers.

    This was difficult. Morris felt separated from working men by painful disjointnesses of background. It was hard to move from the intimate fellowship he had enjoyed in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to the larger, rougher and unfamiliar world of the working men’s clubs. The tensions were partly a matter of differences over socialist strategy. Morris was torn between his Marxist distaste for ameliorative parliamentarism and palliative trade unionism – at least when they were made part of a socialist programme – and the desire for an intense comradeship with working men. He acknowledged that differences of background might underlie these differences of strategic perspective. ‘I have always belonged to the well-to-do classes, and was born into luxury’, he told one audience, ‘so that necessarily I ask much more of the future than many of you do’. But how could fellowship with working men be achieved if one disapproved so much of the strategies and institutions they had developed for themselves? Morris could not feel content with the heightened ambition that privilege had given him. Class differences also seemed to him ‘strange … sad and shameful’, and he thought that his audiences would find them so too.Morris_smooth_leaf


    orris’s unhappiness persisted because the gulf that divided him from the workers was not just a matter of past background, but also his present manner of living as an employer and a wealthy man. A further challenge, therefore, was that so neatly worded by G. A. Cohen in his question for socialists today, ‘If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?’. This question frequently arose at Morris’s lectures. He replied that when socialism came he would be willing to sink his wealth into the common stock of the nation and work for the same wage as everyone else. But for the present, it would do no good because even the richest were ‘but minute links in the immense chain of the terrible organisation of competitive commerce’. ‘The poor would be just as poor, the rich, perhaps, a little more rich’, Morris retorted to a heckler, ‘for my wealth would finally get into their hands’. To give away his wealth would not amount to more than a drop in the ‘great ocean of economic slavery’, he told a friend in 1884. Such sacrifices might reduce the anxiety of his workers’ lives. But this would be almost worse, because they would fritter away small sums on ‘swinish comfort’, and larger sums would turn them into little capitalists. There was another difficulty too. It would not be fair to expect his family to bear the cost of his principles. ‘I feel the pinch of society, for which society I am only responsible in a very limited degree’, he wrote.

    Morris’s arguments do not provide a strong defence of the rich egalitarian. Even if the primary injustice under capitalism is a systematic inequality which cannot be corrected by individual giving, the rich egalitarian can still do something now to remedy the secondary injustices suffered by the poor. Even a drop in the ocean might nonetheless make a real difference to the lives of the recipients. This is tacitly accepted by many rich egalitarians who accept the obligation to give something to the poor and who only resist giving most of what they have. Moreover, the money Morris gave to the socialist cause mostly ended up in the hands of capitalists too, but he did not regard that as a sound reason for not spending it. Even accepting the priority of the struggle over private giving, Morris did not, of course, give most of his wealth to that either.Morris_smooth_leaf

    It is therefore tempting to dismiss Morris’s arguments as hypocritical. Maybe he found it too hard to renounce beautiful objects and the means to acquire them. For Morris, perhaps, Liberty trumped fraternity and equality. But this would be to simplify a complex discomfort. Morris made little use of more reasonable defences for the rich egalitarian. To expect the rich to give away most of what they have, Cohen suggests, is to expect more of them than others, because they will feel the self-inflicted pain of the loss more sharply than the poor who have no choice and are used to it. Morris, however, would have thought this reply unsatisfactory because it drew lines between socialists on the basis of their class backgrounds and experiences. The question that drove his own socialism was, ‘How could you bear it yourself?’. The reply implied by Cohen’s argument – ‘You couldn’t, but they can’ – was unacceptable to him, because in justifying persistent differences of wealth in terms of different expectations and needs, it reinscribed the difference between the rich socialists and the workers with whom they sought fellowship.

    Cohen also argues that there may be pragmatic reasons for the rich to retain wealth and position. Morris’s wealth allowed him to finance party activities that could not have been afforded otherwise. It paid to bail out working class demonstrators when they were arrested, and for the printing and distribution of socialist tracts. Morris’s social position also enabled him to take greater risks on the platform than working-class speakers, and to pull rank in the police station or court room. But, again, although Morris did exploit his position, he disliked doing so, because it drove a wedge between himself and his comrades, exposing the differences of wealth, experience and background which his socialism sought to abolish. What he needed to satisfy his desire for fellowship were not justifications for disjointness, but a means of achieving conjointness.

    Conjointness, however, was not easily achieved. The pretence that as a craftsman-employer he was a worker like any other – ‘a workman, at any rate in my own way’ – fooled no one, least of all himself. The self-questioning – ‘How could you bear it yourself?’ – could achieve only a hypothetical sharing of the worker’s life-experiences. It might prompt shame, the uneasy emotion Marx had described as a ‘revolution of a kind’. But shame was not the primary feeling of workers, rather of the shamed rich, and could not ground fellowship.Morris_smooth_leaf

    Instead, Morris sought to erase the differences through participatory conjointness, that is, through the feelings of belonging created by common experiences in the movement itself. He was, as Hyndman acknowledged, ‘even too eager to take his full part in the unpleasant part of our public work … never satisfied unless he was doing work … he was little fitted for, and others of coarser fibre could do much better than he’. He ‘carried the banner, sold literature, took the hat round for collections … acted as a sandwichman, between placards advertising Commonweal …. gave a hand with the smallest mechanical details of office or branch organisation’. In Glasier’s affectionate depiction of him, Morris, dressed in his famous rough blue shirt, is continually suggesting collective activities, walks and discussion, and picnics and singing, and refusing the deference that workers offer him. Hyndman himself behaved differently. He addressed audiences of working men wearing the garb of a stockbroker (which he was), offering ironic thanks to the workers for their stupidity in keeping him in his privileged position. This invocation of disjointness was consistent with Hyndman’s wider views. ‘A slave class cannot be freed by the slaves themselves’, he believed. ‘The leadership, the initiative, the teaching, the organisation, must come from those who were born into a different position’. The problem was that, however theoretically correct, Hyndman’s disjointness was alienating. ‘At almost every meeting he addressed’, the socialist trade union leader Tom Mann recalled, ‘Hyndman would cynically thank the audience for “so generously supporting my class”. Indeed, he brought in “my class” to an objectionable degree.’Morris_smooth_leaf

    Morris, by contrast, ‘did not harangue his audiences’, or so Glasier tells us, ‘but spoke to them as a man to his friends or neighbours and as one on their own level of intelligence and goodwill’. In a way Hyndman could never have done, Morris cheerfully admitted that he struggled to understand Marxist economics, and solicited everyone else’s opinions on political questions rather than impose his own. His ‘chants’ for socialists were, unlike those earlier in the century, neither instructions to the workers to ‘rise like lions’, nor attempts to speak on their behalf, but were written from the midst of a common struggle in which all were comrades, in which there was no special place for the socially smart, and ‘named and nameless all live in us’. Above all, Morris shared the risks of the cause. He was arrested for assaulting a policeman in 1885, and summonsed for obstruction the following year.Morris_smooth_leaf

    It is hard to be sure how successful participatory conjointness was. Morris found a basic and insoluble problem of address. He couldn’t employ the mateyness that Mann and John Burns used in their speeches. ‘[I]t is a great drawback that I can’t talk to them roughly and unaffectedly’, he wrote after a meeting in Stepney in 1885. His diary of political meetings in 1887 frequently records a lack of connection. ‘I shall have to be as familiar and unliterary as I can’, he told himself before addressing a ‘rather rough lot of honest poor people’ in Mitcham. But even the best audiences were quiet, unresponsive and uncomprehending; and the worst, ignorant, ‘perfectly supine’, and ‘degraded’, with drunkenness often the only thing that prompted a critical intervention from the floor.

    Morris’s lectures were also heavy with instruction, because his purpose was to convert workers to socialism, rather than offer them the half-loaf of palliatives they already wanted. His value to the socialist movement came from the expensive education that had made him ambitious, insightful and eloquent concerning their condition. When his journalism was criticised for its difficulty, he responded that he ‘could not offer to the workers what he did not himself think good’. But this was bound to leave such audiences feeling that the small betterments that they sought through the unions and co-operatives were unworthy, and that there was some higher, less selfish goal that they were missing or perhaps could not comprehend. This rarely aroused hostility. The atmosphere at Morris’s meetings tended to be, as Shaw described it, one of ‘ignorant and uncertain reverence’. The deference was a sign of Morris’s value, but also of a difference he hated yet could not erase. His audiences always contained a large component of those who had come to see Morris the artist and writer – the ‘distinguished curiosity’ who still lived at a distance from them.Morris_smooth_leafMorris_smooth_leaf

    Of William Morris and participatory conjointness

    Of Edward Carpenter and isolated conjointness.

    The possibilities of a deeper conjointness were being explored elsewhere in 1883 by another of that year’s converts to socialism. Edward Carpenter had abandoned the church for university extension lecturing, but was frustrated to find that his audiences consisted not of manual workers but other middle class people. In 1883, he met Morris and Hyndman and paid for the Democratic Federation to launch its newspaper, Justice. But Carpenter’s desire for conjointness took him in a different direction to either of them. Using a legacy from his father, he had purchased Millthorpe, a house and seven-acre plot of land in rural Derbyshire, which he spent the year repairing and improving. In Towards Democracy, also published in 1883, Carpenter set out his vision of conjointness with the unprivileged.

    This required a sharper break than Morris felt able to make. Millthorpe involved a commitment to self-supporting labour, simple living, and a reorientation of friendships and associations. For Carpenter, divestment meant much more than disposing of financial assets, but a reconsideration of every convention of daily living, from clothing to diet and health, household arrangements, and family and personal relationships. He advocated simple dress not merely on grounds of health and cost but also so as to remove the disjoint class signals which expensive clothing introduced into human interactions. He also embraced radical democratic notions of learning from below. The poor not only knew things the elite had forgotten but knew all one needed to live conjointly. He ‘seems to live in great amity with the workmen and the women’, wrote Morris after visiting Millthorpe. ‘[T]hey all live together in the kitchen and ‘tis all very pleasant’.

    For all this, Carpenter found a lived egalitarianism effortful. His early days at Millthorpe, living amid a ‘perfectly illiterate unprogressive country population’ were lonely. Over time, however, he did construct an extensive network of personal friends, which included manual labourers, though also many of the disillusioned and lost middle classes too. Like Morris, Carpenter adhered most readily to craft workers rather than newly organising semi-skilled or unskilled workers. His relationships with them did not always match his hopes. Many workers were distressingly materialistic and ambitious, and remained stubbornly attached to cheap goods. They missed the possibilities of the ‘larger socialism’ and new ways of living in fellowship. 

    These were perhaps the unavoidable inconsistencies of any such effort at adherence. Carpenter’s social experiments were, after all, artificial and impossible for anyone poorer to emulate. Millthorpe was a freehold property, purchased with his legacy, so its commercial viability rested on inherited wealth. When its stresses became too much for him, there was always the possibility of a foreign holiday for recuperation. As his biographer acknowledges, Carpenter had not become poor himself, but was ‘looking at the poor and outcast and willing himself among them’. Carpenter did more than any of his generation to show how a middle class man of private means could detach himself from a Victorian upbringing and its expectations. Where he was less successful was in reattachment to something else.

    But it is arguable that was never his intention. Carpenter sometimes romanticised the notion of becoming one with the poor, but he did not minimise its difficulties. Far from fostering fellowship, he argued, contact with the poor usually punctured it, requiring great patience and tolerance. Many of those of Carpenter’s own class who fetched up at Millthorpe with dreams of ‘crossing over’ were either dabblers with hopelessly impractical schemes, or drifters who hoped to postpone any manual work until the day when the socialist revolution made it unnecessary. ‘[B]elonging neither to one class nor the other, outcasts from one, and more or less pitied or ridiculed by the other’, wrote Carpenter, they were in a kind of spiritual limbo. What he wanted for himself was not to become working class, but to displace class: to live as though class did not matter. This is what has made him such a fine visionary example for contemporary libertarian socialists. To them he seems a man ahead of his time. But for the purposes of adherence to other people’s struggles, especially when the struggle is oriented to solidarity, being a few steps ahead is still to be out of line. Carpenter’s desire to displace class was unhelpful to those for whom class emphatically mattered. They saw class difference as not something to transcend, but, on the contrary, as the basis of struggle.

    As a consequence, Carpenter remained remote from the tasks of organising workers or building socialist parties. He was, of course, not a political hermit. Like Morris, though less energetically, he managed to erase some of the disabling disjointness of his own background through the shared experiences of open-air speaking, pamphleteering, street corner politics, ‘amusing and exciting wrangles with the police and the town-crowds’ and their associated intimacies. But he resisted taking up membership, making alignments and commitments. He could ally with movements which wanted a loosely affiliated friend, but not with more organised struggles for whom commitment was the cement needed to fix adherents in place. This was Morris’s own conclusion. He contemplated the attractions of Millthorpe ‘with longing heart’, sensing the attractions of ‘a decent community as a refuge from our mean squabbles and corrupt society’. But to throw up the political struggle for such a retreat would be ‘dastardly’. Voluntary simplicity of life was all very well, but socialists’ task was to end the involuntary simplicity of the lives of the poor.

    In the terms I use in my book Other People’s Struggles, therefore, this was a project of limited ambition, not in the relationship it proposed to workers, which was admirably uninstructive, but in terms of its projected size and timescale. Through his own example and the stimuli it gave to others, Carpenter showed that an individual could live very largely as though class did not matter, provided a blind eye were turned to certain founding anomalies like the legacy that had kickstarted Millthorpe. But he had nothing original to say about how to get to the place where class no longer mattered. 

    The year 1883 also saw the formation of another socialist body interested in conjoint fellowship in small numbers. This was the Fellowship of the New Life (FNL), which Carpenter characteristically associated with, but did not join. It emerged from a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the spiritual emptiness of Victorian bourgeois life. Its socialism came from recognising that the unearned privileges of the middle classes rested on ‘the ceaseless toil, cheerless lives and the pinching want of the masses of the people’ and its ambition was ‘to refuse to have a part in, or to profit by, the competitive system’ through living a communal life. Other socialists, the FNL held, deferred the improvement of personal character until after their economic and political schemes were complete. But this was to put the cart before the horse, for such schemes required a prior, or at least parallel, ethical transformation too. Its ethos was ‘the cultivation of a perfect character in each and all’.

    The FNL therefore advocated the dignity of labour, and much the same renunciation of luxury as Carpenter did. But it did so not so much in the interests of solidarity with the poor, as of personal improvement so as to set a better moral example, not to workers but to members of their own class.

    The special interest of the New Lifers lay in the personal ethical dilemmas of the middle class socialists. Its journal Seed-Time ran a regular feature on ‘Every Day Ethics’, which covered such questions as ethical shopping, whether middle class socialists should employ servants or own shares, what they should wear, and whether they should travel third-class on the railway. For Maurice Adams, socialist fellowship precluded rent and profit, all of which were ‘tolls levied on the worker’ and involved living off others. He argued for ‘voluntary service of all, by each, and living by one’s own labour’. He and other correspondents to Seed-Time argued that interest was theft, so socialists ought not to profit from shares, but only invest in co-operative ventures which did not pay dividends. But others argued that no matter what socialists did, shares in joint stock companies would still exist. Socialists who divested would thereby deprive themselves of any influence over the capitalist firm in the matter of wages and conditions. ‘We cannot by one step take ourselves out of the Actual into the Ideal’, J. F. Oakeshott concluded. Socialists should not stop shopping, Clementina Black urged, but enquire about the true costs of goods they purchased and press for the formation of a Consumer’s League to enforce fair prices. Giving to the poor also presented a dilemma. Clearly the poor needed money, but would donations really help them, or end the conditions which made them poor? Perhaps it was better for middle class socialists to make them interest-free loans, or pay for socialist activity? On the vexed question of servants, Edith Lees hoped that simplicity of life and a general commitment to manual labour would make domestic service unnecessary in a socialist home. But until then, she wrote in Seed-Time, socialists must dispense with a spirit of servitude, that is, treating their servants merely as means and not ends in themselves. The article prompted correspondence defending the good socialist mistress, and complaints about the poor quality of the servant class.

    Amid such difficulties, the re-education of desire sought by the FNL could therefore best be achieved by living apart.  Like Millthorpe, it was more an exercise in detachment than adherence. ‘Class breaking’ was potentially so difficult that it was only possible with a supportive group of likeminded and similarly situated souls. The FNL was unusual in a socialist organisation of its time in actively discouraging membership. ‘Do not, unless you cannot help it’, was its advice to prospective members. Isolation and small numbers were needed for the members to keep each other up to the mark. In 1891, the New Lifers set up Fellowship House in Bloomsbury.  In Attainment, a novel written by Edith Lees, one of its inhabitants, the FNL is thinly disguised as the Brotherhood of the Perfect Life. Their efforts prove well-meaning but ineffectual. It takes the maid ‘an hour extra in the mornings to undo the heroic attempts of the Brotherhood at manual labour’, and she is pleased for all the wrong reasons when they double her pay. The problem is that the devotees of the Brotherhood have arrived at socialism by being satiated and bored by capitalism, rather than exploited by it. This is why they want the rewards of a simple life, but this necessarily puts them at odds with those they want to help, who simply want a better rewarded one.   The FNL sought an end to the disjointness of their relationships with the workers, but only managed to achieve conjointness with each other. Depth and intensity in conjoint relationships could be achieved, but at the cost of social isolation.


    cientific Marxist thinkers, like Engels, Aveling and Bax, the anxious desire for conjointness exhibited by Morris, Carpenter and the FNL was unnecessary. Fellowship was for the future, communist society. Solidarity in the working class would be produced by capitalist exploitation, which would create first a single class interest and later class consciousness and common action. But such solidarity would not extend to the middle class, which was bound to fight against its impending dissolution. As a class, it could never be persuaded of the justice of the proletarian struggle. The FNL’s hope of ‘moralising the capitalist’ was therefore an idle one. Of course, individual members of that class might adhere to scientific socialism through coming to appreciate the direction history was taking in advance. They were therefore invited to ‘renounce their class’. This meant, however, not that they should seek to be at one with the proletariat, but that they should devote their ‘influence, wealth, or educated intelligence … to bring about the inevitable change as speedily and as peacefully as possible’.

    Bax thought that the desire for deeper conjointness was a residual form of guilt, fostered by Christian religion and the utopian socialism it had inspired. Christianity, with its passion for individual salvation, was naturally concerned with the inward character of its believers. Modern Anglicans held that believers must put their beliefs in practice, and not merely prepare for the kingdom to come. But modern scientific socialists were different. They looked not inwards, but outwards to the forces needed to transform a whole society. Such a transformation required more than acts of expiation on the part of individuals. Nor should socialists seek guidance from small experimental communities like the FNL or Millthorpe, or from isolated gurus like Carpenter. The correct direction for socialists must be deduced by a proper examination of economics and history at the scale of the whole capitalist system, not artificial micro-communities perched inside it.


    ocialists should therefore not condemn Hyndman for refusing to deny – indeed, for continually signalling – his class. What else could he do? For Bax, ‘whenever the Socialist hears of a man professing or striving to practise Socialism in his life he knows he has to deal with either a fool or a humbug’.  Nor should Morris feel guilty about the position that capitalism had placed him in. A socialist employer could, of course, choose to pay the minimum union-agreed wage, but should not imagine that doing so would bring the proletarian revolution a day closer. Nor should he feel obliged to give away his wealth. It might be an act of kindness, but it would not make him ‘any more of a Socialist than the man who keeps his pockets more tightly buttoned up’. To emulate the poor, moreover, was mere sentimentalism. The condition of the proletariat was neither desirable nor enviable. For socialists to seek to share it rather than end it was to place personal cleanliness ahead of the collective good. ‘I know of a young man who thinks it an act of Socialistic virtue (not an unfortunate necessity, mind!) to live on 15s. a-week with wife and children’, Bax wrote in disgust. But all he had done was to prove what every capitalist wanted proved: that it was possible to survive on very low wages.


    n early 1884, Bax’s newspaper To-Day serialised George Bernard Shaw’s novel An Unsocial Socialist, which its author later claimed to be the ‘first English novel written under the influence of Karl Marx’. Its protagonist is Sidney Trefusis, who has inherited land from his mother and shares from his father’s cotton business, but on reading Marx becomes disgusted with his own class and its means of profit. He leaves his wife five weeks after their wedding, and disguises himself as a labourer, Jeff Smilash, whose conversation alternates bewilderingly between forelock-tugging deference to his social betters and Marxist political economy. When, out of embarrassment, a lady offers him more than the lowest market wage, somewhat in the manner of the Brotherhood of the Perfect Life, Smilash gives her a lecture on Marx’s theory of surplus value, concluding, ‘You have a noble ‘art, lady; but youre [sic] flying in the face of the law of supply and demand’.

    However, although he disguises himself as one of the workers, Trefusis does not identify with them. On the contrary, he finds them supine and ignorant. They will have to be saved by the superior brains of intellectuals if they are to be saved at all.


    n the question that troubled Morris, Trefusis takes a robustly unabashed attitude. If rich socialists sold their shares, they would only get into the hands of some other capitalist and the workers would be no better off. Even private munifence is pointless. Schools originally built for the poor, like Eton College, were invariably appropriated by the rich. ‘Plant [a park] at the very doors of the poor so that they may at least breathe its air’, Trefusis comments, ‘and it will raise the value of the neighbouring houses and drive the poor away’. In any case, there was no point in ministering to poverty, for ‘[n]o matter how much you give to the poor, everything except a bare subsistence wage will be taken from them again by force’. Trefusis is angry about all this, but in contrast to Morris, he refuses to feel guilty about it. It is not his fault that he is where he is.

    Shaw thought the FNL mistaken to put personal perfection ahead of political organising, and found his socialist home in the Fabian Society. In an early paper for the Fabians, titled ‘Why we do not act up to our principle’, he pointed out that most Socialists lived off rent, interest or profit, and some were direct exploiters of wage labour. But he denied, like Bax, that this was hypocritical because he thought no one could live as a socialist yet. The worker could not do so, because if he refused to accept less than the fair price of his labour, he would never get work. The capitalist could not live as a socialist because if he refused to take interest or profit, his firm would be bankrupted, reducing him to the position of the worker. Even the socialist consumer could only purchase goods made through exploitation, because under capitalism there were no other goods to be had.

    There was no escape in divestment either. The rich socialist could neither enjoy her wealth, but nor share the life of the poor. ‘[W]ealth cannot be enjoyed without dishonour’, Shaw wrote in 1884, ‘or foregone without misery’. Unlike Carpenter, Shaw refused to be sentimental about the condition of the poor or the supposed wisdom born of living cheaply. The workers did not want spiritual enrichment and the simple life, but the relief of poverty and material goods. Trefusis also expresses Shaw’s own conviction that there were deep divisions of experience and feeling between the classes which could not be bridged with fellowship. While he admired Morris, Shaw thought his ‘costly and carefully dyed blue shirt’ was an affectation. Socialism must reconcile itself to an unabashed disjointness. Socialists must not try to get on with everyone. They must be unsocial and somewhat heartless.

    For Shaw, then, the task of the middle class socialist was neither to seek to share the life of the poor, nor lament her inability to do so, but to stay put and act as an irritant within her own class.

    Shaw’s provocations made people think and smile, and mercilessly exposed false argument. The harder question for Shaw’s fellow socialists was whether his outrageous performative disjointness was any basis for a political movement. Trefusis, after all, disconcerts and tricks his hearers, but converts no one to socialism. Even Bax, who shared the analysis, found the continual play of Shavian paradox and amusing inversion wearing.  For his part, Morris liked Shaw’s book, and indeed Shaw himself, but also thought him sometimes too ‘superior’ in his lectures. ‘He has … got a pocket of conundrums which he pulls out from time to time: his real tendencies are towards individualist-anarchism’, he wrote after hearing Shaw speak. He was also unhappy with Shaw’s inability to reach the working class who made up a large proportion of the audience.

    Bax and Shaw’s unabashed disjointness was, like other approaches, neither a good thing or a bad thing. It simply limited the possibilities of the adherent’s contribution in a distinctive way. The only common location the unabashedly disjoint adherents would admit to their working-class audiences was one of being on the same side of history, but without acknowledging a shared understanding that this was the case. Their paradigmatic contribution was the instructional lecture, at which Shaw excelled. Yet even Shaw’s lectures could leave his working class audience feeling strangely put down. Shaw ‘fails to “catch hold” of the ordinary man … ’, wrote Sidney Webb, ‘just as a locomotive engine, when its wheels revolve fast without making the train progress’.

    Of Belfort Bax and Bernard Shaw and unabashed disjointness.

    Of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and functional disjointness.

    Sidney Webb shared Shaw’s view that the rich socialist could not rest content with the unearned income she derived from rent or interest on capital, ‘much of which inevitably comes stained with tears and blood’. Mere divestment was also no solution, he wrote to Jane Burdon Sanderson, for under capitalism, ‘[w]omen and children will be oppressed and starved with your capital, whatever you do’. But in rejecting scientific Marxism’s catastrophist account of the evolution of capitalism, Webb and the Fabians also came to reject its conclusion that little could be done to live as a socialist until the revolution. For the Fabians, socialism was already making converts through its evident superiority as a mode of social organisation. Since socialism was already on the march, there were useful things that wealthy socialists could, indeed ought, to do now.

    The socialist shareholder should, Webb advised, retain her shares so as to be a responsible steward of her wealth, writing to the directors of the companies in which she held shares to urge higher pay. She should consume, but – a typical Fabian prescription – make proper enquiries as a consumer. The primary duty of every healthy adult, Webb insisted, was to work full time for her living. To live off the labour of others made one a mere drone, and ‘a dead loss to the world’. The Fabian theory of rent identified unearned income as the main way that the rich lived, legally but immorally, off the work of others. But rent included not only land and capital but also that part of income enjoyed by the skilled which was a consequence not of their efforts, but of luck, opportunity, educational advantage, and the vagaries of supply and demand for their particular skill. This ‘rent of ability’ was not simply a bonus to be privately enjoyed. Like land and capital, it was a social resource to be used in the interests of all. For him to fail to place it at society’s disposal, Graham Wallas argued, was as bad a failing as for a landlord to fail to maintain his property, or a rentier to live idly on unexamined investments.

    Socialism also meant a frugal life. The socialist, Wallas believed, should consume personally at a level no higher than he could do were capital fairly distributed. In Webb’s view, rich socialists should restrict their own private expenditure to the level set by the needs of their own working efficiency, but not a penny higher.  Socialism, according to Beatrice Webb, meant ‘not .. simply the grasping of good things by the Have nots, but a deliberate giving up of luxury and fashion by the “Haves”’. For all but the poorest, this meant cutting back. This was bound to be difficult to do. Sidney agreed with the simple life, not because it was good for the character, but because it was efficient.

    The Fabians therefore acknowledged immediate personal obligations which were more demanding than those accepted by the scientific Marxists. But they were also more extensive than those envisaged by the FNL. The FNL insisted on a significant change of life, but confined such obligations to fellow initiates. The Fabians, by contrast, envisaged duties and responsibilities on a national scale, which covered not merely the rich, but also the talented in every sphere. Like the Marxists, however, the Fabians believed that socialism could not be achieved in miniature, by moralising private individuals. The duty of the rich socialist could not be, as Carpenter had proposed, to ‘hand rent back’ to his own tenants or workers. Rents did not properly belong to them either. They were produced by social co-operation, and had therefore been appropriated from the community as a whole and not from individual members of the proletariat. Carpenter’s proposal that wealth should simply be ‘passed on’ locally to the less privileged was therefore much too close to charity. Fairness could only be achieved when the state assumed responsibility for collecting and administering rents for everyone.

    The Fabians therefore soon moved away from the small questions of personal conduct examined by the FNL. The New Lifers were interested in washing their own domestic relationships, such as those with servants and shopkeepers, clean of the stains made by capitalism, in much the same way as they washed their own clothes. By contrast the Fabians, to pursue the analogy, wanted a public enquiry into the conditions of domestic service and municipal laundries. To the Fabians, separated, quasi-socialist ‘communities’ were a poor model for socialism. They usually failed even on their own terms, and when they prospered it was almost always by abandoning the elements of socialism with which they had started. Any shortlived success was an illusion created by forgetting to take into account their founding capital, the missing costs of maintaining children, the old and the sick, and the fact that their members already agreed on so much. Real societies could take none of these for granted. ‘Wise prophets nowadays’, Webb argued, ‘do not found a partial community which adopts the whole faith; they cause rather the partial adoption of their faith by the whole community.’

    Conjointness for the Fabians meant the common duty of all able-bodied individuals to contribute to the collective good through useful work. To the Carpenter and the FNL, however, this looked more like efficiency than fellowship. Compared to their own thick but restricted notion of community, the Fabians offered something more extensive but thinner. Fabianism would not involve committed individuals living directly for each other, as in a small socialist community. On the contrary, it would preserve significant differences between the ways people lived, justified in the name of efficiency. Under Fabian socialism, work would not be of equal value, nor would there necessarily be equal incomes. Shaw alone argued for them, and not until much later in life. Far from giving up his vocation or its rewards, Wallas thought, the intellectual ‘must see that he gets his full pay’, but then dedicate it to social service. There would probably still be social classes, although they would be differentiated not by varying amounts of control over factors of production but simply by ability and function, and they would not differ much in status.

    Within the socialist movement, the Fabians therefore practised and preached a functional disjointness. The affluent socialist should neither surrender her advantages, nor feel bad about them, nor reserve them for fellow-members of a private community, but develop them through work for the general good. Such work might include attentive managing of her own investments, or participation in local government, or opening her home for socialist discussion among her friends. She should not worry too much about the social distance such specialisation created between herself and workers. This was unavoidable given the increasing complexity of society and the demands of efficiency. For people to do things for which they had not been trained –a valued learning technique among New Lifers – was to the Fabians an inexplicable waste of talent. What socialism needed was not for people to become interchangeable in their various social roles, but more distinct and expert and oriented to the collective good. United by the thin sense of common duty, but divided by different competences, growing numbers of socialists – conscious or unconscious – would each have their own part to play, whether as workers by hand or by brain, producers or consumers, representers or represented.

    These were the four principal answers to the question of socialist fellowship in the 1880s. What is most striking is the wide spectrum of view, ranging from those who thought that to become a socialist involved changing nothing other (though nothing less) than one’s core beliefs, and those who thought it meant changing everything else too. It is also clear from the breadth of the disagreement that the problem was an intractable one. None of the solutions was without its drawbacks. Unabashed disjointness did not promise immediate fellowship at all: even proposing itself as an alternative to it. Isolated conjointness was intense, but hard to broaden to workers. Functional disjointness was broader but thinner. It still meant split lives. Adherents who sought conjointness through vigorous participation encountered the difficulty that to be useful as participants they had to preserve aspects of themselves which continued to signal that they were special and different.

    In the longer version of this paper, I explore these divisions of opinion and approach in more detail, and trace the trajectories they followed after the 1880s. I also make some contrasts between the questions that arose here and those which arose when middle-class socialists acted as labour representatives, which are the subject of another paper written for the research project on Other People’s Struggles.

    Concluding matter.


    Read More
    Jul 06

    Labour Representation and the Professional Classes

    The picture above shows Oliver Baldwin, son of the Conservative party leader Stanley Baldwin, campaigning in the October 1924 election in Dudley, a West Midlands coal-mining and iron-founding town at the heart of the Black Country.

    Oliver Baldwin was himself a candidate in the election. He was, indeed, a candidate for Dudley. But what was unusual about his candidacy was that he was the Labour candidate. The photograph shows him campaigning in the back-to-back housing of Dudley, which was, according to Baldwin, a ‘dreary, poverty-stricken place’, electorally corrupt, and ‘very backward politically’. The Topical Press Agency, or perhaps the photographer John Warwick Brooke, ironically captioned the photograph as Baldwin ‘canvassing his next-door neighbours’. Needless to say, Baldwin did not live next door. He shared a farmhouse in Oxfordshire with his lover Johnnie Boyle, who had in turn been provided with it by his brother-in-law Lord Macclesfield.

    The photograph is certainly fascinating.

    This is not a group engaged in general interaction. If it were, they would be standing in a loose semi-circle and we would have to study the photograph closely before being able to pick out the candidate. By the 1950s, photographs of that sort – the candidate ‘sharing a joke’ with the voters, or getting down to their level – would become commonplace. Eventually they would become a campaigning cliche.

    But the photograph here shows a pre-democratic situation. It is not a general interaction, but an encounter between two sides, divided by the vertical of the fence-post into a wary stand-off. There is no difficulty whatsoever in picking out the candidate. He looks directly at them, and they, directly and indirectly, look back at at him.

    oliver_baldwin_closeupOliver Baldwin has also dressed down for the encounter. He has removed his jacket and also his shirt collar. Indeed, his shirt is open at the neck. To meet the ‘respectable poor’, he has chosen, for himself, not to be ‘respectable’. His trousers do no look especially well-tailored. They resemble workman’s heavy wool trousers of the kind you can now buy in Shoreditch at inflated prices, and are held up with a rough leather belt. However, Baldwin’s hair, presumably harder to change for the occasion, is elegantly waved, and his moustache is neatly clipped. He is a tall man, certainly; perhaps half a head taller than anyone else in the photograph. His hands are pushed deep into the pockets of his workman’s trousers, in the confident manner of his class. His gaze is downward, the line of the nose almost perfectly vertical. Baldwin, in common with many other Labour candidates from the middle- and upper-middle classes, had been an officer in the trenches, and his gaze seems to resemble that used in military inspections it had evolved in a conscript army: not fierce or severe, but professionally concerned. His brow is slightly furrowed, in the manner described by Raymond Williams as the gaze of concerned ‘man management’: ‘the calmly apprising eyes (narrowed about an eighth of an inch; more would look suspicious), the gentle silences, the engaging process of drawing the man out’. ‘Having taken these surroundings, having really got the feel of his people, he will point the way forward’.

    Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London, 1961), 333.

    The constituents are also intriguing. They, in contrast to Baldwin, seem to be wearing their Sunday best clothes. Their expressions – although we should always be wary of expressions in newspaper snapshot photography – suggest a mix of responses. The daughter, if that is who she is, looks excited and eager to please. Her smile is certainly the largest.

    The man, wearing jacket and tie, is more smartly and less effortfully dressed than Baldwin. But he does not look nearly as much at his ease. He is not making eye contact with Baldwin. He looks towards the women in the family. Perhaps he is concerned how they will appear to Baldwin or to the press photographer. Perhaps he is concerned for them in this artificial, contrived situation.

    The older women, however, look more wary. There is a marked contrast between the assurance of Baldwin’s expression and the strain in theirs. He looks directly down at them. But the older women do not directly face Baldwin. In each case, the head is half-turned towards him, creating a sharp line of muscular tension in the neck. In one case, furthermore, the glance comes only from the corner of the eyes, a line of gaze characteristically indicating suspicion and unwillingness to face straight towards an interlocutor. While Baldwin’s hands are pushed deep into his pockets, her hands grasp the wooden fence, her left arm is placed protectively across the line of his gaze, and there is more tension in her face than his.

    Baldwin failed to win Dudley in 1924. It was, he later wrote, a ‘personal campaign of beer, lies and bitterness’ which ended in a narrow victory for the sitting MP, the Conservative and Unionist Cyril Lloyd, chairman of Hingley’s, one of the large local iron-working and chain-making firms.

    In his autobiography, The Questing Beast (1931), Baldwin claimed that the constituency had been so ‘hopeless’ that no one else had been prepared to take it on after the previous Labour candidate had polled fewer then 2,000 votes. In fact, the situation was not so hopeless. Labour had narrowly taken the seat in a by-election in 1921, and the low vote in 1923 had been the consequence of a Liberal intervention. Nonetheless, Baldwin continued to nurse the seat through the second half of the 1920s, and was rewarded in 1929 when he took it, on a swing of 8% (about twice the national swing to Labour) and a 3,000 majority.

    How should we understand Labour candidacies like that of Oliver Baldwin? Until recently they were barely known about, and the accounts that have appeared in the last few years, such as those of Martin Pugh and Kevin Morgan, suggest that show that Labour was – at least in some places – a weak party. It was financially vulnerable to rich candidates who bought their way in to candidacies, and culturally deferential to the upper classes.

    I have thrown doubt on the aristocratic embrace argument elsewhere, and I do not think that the wealth argument is very persuasive either. By and large, Labour candidates who were not working class did not spend more than the working class candidates. Baldwin, for example, did not spend much on Dudley: 38% of the legal maximum in 1924 and 27% in 1929. On each occasion his opponents spent a great deal more. This point can be generalised too. As I discuss below, candidates from middle- and upper-class backgrounds spent on average less than candidates from working-class backgrounds. Of course, the seats they contested were often poor prospects, not worth spending a lot on. But then the safe seats, which often went to working-class candidates, did not need high expenditure.

    I think that the best way to understand the Labour candidates of the inter-war years is to look at Labour representation over a longer period. The interwar period is the third stage of a longer process by which the Labour Party had first tolerated, or even relied on such candidates; and then quite deliberately excluded them.

    This three-stage explanation – disposal, exclusion and readmittance – is one of the cases I discuss in my book Other People’s Struggles.



    The first stage begins with a little-known debate that took place as the trade unions started to make their political break away from endorsing Liberal candidates in elections. The British labour movement began, as social movements emerging into a hostile environment often do, with a certain reliance on adherents. The degree of reliance was not, in comparative terms, especially great, because so many of the things that, elsewhere, only adherents could supply, were in Britain either not needed, or available to the labour movement from its own resources. Nonetheless, the labour movement did rely on ‘friends of labour’ for some specific purposes, especially advocacy in parliament and the press, and advice on questions of law and political strategy. The first important transition I discuss, which ran roughly from the late 1870s to the late 1890s, is that by which the labour movement disposed of its adherents in those areas in which it did not need them, and its growing control of the relationships where it still did.

    This was not a simple process of extrication from external sponsorship, because the question of who spoke for Labour was cross-cut by disagreements over political alliances. Most of the trade unionists wanted to continue to work with the Liberals, but to exclude middle-class people from their own organizations. They wrote the rules of the Labour Electoral Association (LEA) to keep middle-class ‘friends of labour’ out. In this they were opposed by socialists and the advocates of independent labour – such as Keir Hardie – who wanted to break with the Liberals and run independently, but were obliged (or wished) to take the money and political support of middle- and upper-class socialists. The LEA wished to organize independently on the basis of class, but was willing to fight elections alongside members of other classes in the Liberal Party. Hardie and his fellow socialists of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), by contrast, wished to fight independently of the Liberals, but were willing to collaborate with members of other classes in order to do so. Both sides were therefore, of necessity, working with other classes while asserting their independence of them, and angrily accusing their rivals of dependence. Each side had its corresponding vulnerability to counter-accusations of bad faith. The LEA believed that class interests could be harmonised, but nonetheless excluded members of other classes from its own organisation. The socialist organizations, on the other hand, combined their belief in the inevitable clash of class interests with a paradoxical willingness to work politically with those of other classes.



    The chances of vicarious representation of workers by the middle-classes were dealt two further blows at the start of the twentieth century, which is the start of my second period. These were the labour alliance between socialists and trade unionists (1900), and the Progressive Alliance with the Liberals (1903). Where the Liberals were strong, there was little chance for any independent labour candidate at all, from whatever background. Where the Liberals were weaker, then such a candidate might stand a chance of winning, provided he attracted Conservative-inclined working-men. In two-member constituencies, the Liberals were sometimes prepared to run alongside such a candidate, or even in single-member ones stand down in his favour, provided he was pledged to follow the Liberal lead in Parliament. This normally meant a popular union official capable of attracting workers’ votes. The Liberals had no interest in making way for middle-class candidates who did not complement their own appeal and whose anti-Liberal speeches suggested they would be unreliable MPs. The best prospects for the middle-class socialist arose where these calculations broke down, usually when local Liberals ran an unpopular employer or landlord, or imported a candidate with faddish views. But even here, things were difficult. Working-class Conservative-inclined voters were suspicious both of causes and plans for their betterment. It was hard for any candidate to get socialism across to such audiences, but the best chances lay with those who could translate it into the everyday and practical, such as populist workers and trade unionists, rather than middle-class socialists. In short, only bona fide workers would do if trade unionists and working class voters were to be seduced from their existing electoral inclinations. As a consequence, from 1906 to 1918, over 85% of Labour MPs came from working class backgrounds.



    However, thereafter something quite puzzling and unexpected occurred. From 1922 to 1935, the average proportion of Labour MPs from working class backgrounds fell from 85% to 71%, and from 1945 to 1966, to 36%. The proportions among Labour candidates fell more sharply still, and in various important party positions, the middle classes came to be highly visible. This constitutes the third period of my analysis.

    The core of my research in this third period is an original database of Labour candidates in the elections of 1924, 1929 and 1931. Almost all studies of the sociological character of British parliamentary parties examine elected legislators. But such data is distorted by a party’s overall electoral performance. If, as in Labour’s case, safe seats are contested disproportionately by one social group, then when the party does well it will appear more dominated by that group than when it does badly. This says something important about who was dispensable in the Labour Party, but it does not help us get a proper picture of its composition as a whole. For that we need to look at the entire pool of candidates. Social backgrounds have been explored by questionnaire for the Nuffield election studies since 1950, but not for earlier elections. However, it is possible to retrieve the data from various biographical sources in up to 95% of cases. Table 1 summarises the data I have retrieved from such sources for the elections of 1924, 1929 and 1931.


    1.iiCompany director2.62.42.6
    1.iiiHigher professional9.4108.7
    2.iiSmall business owner or manager5.43.75.2
    2.iiiLower professional23.325.427
    3.iManual or non-manual supervisory8.59.89.8
    3.iiSkilled manual41.538.238.1
    4Semi-skilled manual55.45
    Unspecified manual2.60.40.4
    [number of known cases]424 cases539 cases459 cases
    [% sample of candidates]512 candidates [82.8%]568 candidates [94.9%]509 candidates [90.2%]

    SOURCES: The Times Guide to the House of Commons (London, various dates, 1919-1931); S.V.Bracher, The Herald Book of Labour Members (London, 1923 and 1924); Labour Who’s Who: A Biographical Directory to the National and Local Leaders in the Labour and Cooperative Movement (London, 2 eds., 1924 & 1927); Joyce M. Bellamy, John Saville and others (eds.), Dictionary of Labour Biography (Basingstoke, 13 vols, 1972 – ); G. J. Mayhew, ‘The ethical and religious foundations of Socialist politics in Britain: the First Generation and their Ideas’, (PhD, York, 1983), appendix, 618-89; British Political Party General Election Addresses: The National Liberal Club Collection from Bristol University: Part 2, 1923-31 (microfilm, 16 reels) (Brighton, 1986); 1929 election addresses, Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford, CPA PUB 229/5/1-19; W. Field, British Electoral Data, 1885-1949 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], November 2007. SN: 5673, supplemented by F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918 – 1949 (London, 1977).

    Some caution is needed concerning the reliability, comparability and class categorization of largely self-reported data. Nevertheless, the broad pattern can be stated with confidence. The proportion of candidates from working class backgrounds is much lower than it was before the war. According to Neal Blewett, 84% of Labour’s candidates in 1910 were working class. In the enlarged campaigns of the postwar period, the candidate base is much more diverse, with a significant middle class presence, but of a particular type. Farmers and landowners were present in only small numbers (1 to 2% of candidates). Only about a further 6 to 8% of Labour candidates came from business backgrounds, and most of these were skilled manual workers running small businesses on their own account, such as self-employed printers and builders. This absence of significant business leadership helps to explain why it would have been impossible for Labour to have become a plausible party of industrious producers, as the Liberals with their Labour allies in some parts of the country had tried to be before the First World War, and as some Conservative businessmen-politicians and a few ‘patriotic’ trade unionists hoped to be at its end.

    Neal Blewett, The Peers, the Parties and the People: the General Election of 1910 (London, 1972), 230.

    Middle class Labour candidates came from the higher and lower professions and other semi-professional ‘white collar’ employment, especially journalism and political organization. In 1929, around 35% of Labour’s candidates fell into these categories. This was an early stage of a process that, for the post-1950 period, has been well documented. But it is certainly striking that the penetration of the party by professional candidates, so unsuccessful before 1918, got so far so quickly. It is, however, mistaken to subsume these quite specific developments into an undifferentiated, rising professionalism. There were frequently significant breaks with normal professional career paths among the ‘professionals’, as I shall term them. If they were lawyers, they did more work for the unions or industrial claimants than any of their colleagues. If they were lecturers, they as often taught workers as undergraduates; if writers, they were journalists for the labour press rather than men of letters. If doctors, they worked in poor districts, not Harley Street. The clergy were not orthodox clerical professionals, but displaced radicals who had often been held back by irate parish councils or bishops. The precise angle of this break varied. Labour professionals ranged from those who had done no more than undertake pro bono work for unions or party, to those who had become ancillary workers of the labour movement.

    The latter group converged occupationally with the ‘workers’ – Labour candidates of working class origin – of whom almost all had become trade union officials, labour organizers, co-operative society workers or party agents. However, such ‘workers’ were not orthodox professionals either. Their skills were neither acquired through training or validated by qualification, nor did they have much value outside the world of labour. Although now occupationally distanced from the workplace, the ‘workers’ had not thereby become ‘bourgeois’. As I have shown elsewhere, working class Labour MPs rarely acquired significant personal wealth, and neither altered their modes of living, nor succumbed easily to an ‘aristocratic embrace’. This was largely because they recognised that mere historic ‘resemblance’ was no longer a sufficient condition of representativeness. The labour movement had provided for its representatives what wage labour could not: not just better pay and conditions, but also a career structure and working practices governed by relationships of trust. While many ‘workers’ still claimed to speak directly for the working class, this claim needed to be shored up not only through re-engagement with their social origins, in speeches and autobiographical writing, but also by conspicuous demonstrations of service beyond the union. Labour’s candidates therefore shared not common social origins, but a common dilemma: how to speak for a labour interest from which almost all stood at a distance.

    Each therefore distinct – even marginal – in their respective social classes, these two groups – ‘workers’ and ‘professionals’ – dominated the Labour Party in and out of Parliament. Between them they accounted for over three-quarters of the candidates in 1929 and over four-fifths of the parliamentary party. Table 2 divides constituencies into five bands of equal size, defined in terms of the safety of the seat, and shows the percentage distribution of each group’s seats.




    Furthermore, the ‘professionals’ grew in status as well as numbers. Using biographical data, it is possible to track their career paths. They were energetic organisers, especially where the unions were weak. They often acted as party officers and conference delegates, even where they only represented a tiny section of the local party. They were prominent in party journalism and publicity work. They dominated the new policy committees set up in 1918, especially in those areas where the unions lacked interest. And perhaps most surprisingly, to anyone familiar with the party before 1918, they achieved significant influence at the top of the party. The parliamentary party executive was quickly peopled with them. Even on the National Executive Committee (NEC), ‘professionals’ were successfully nominated and elected to represent the affiliated societies, women’s section and divisional parties, despite the fact that the unions dominated the voting. When Labour formed governments in the 1920s, the ‘professionals’ did exceptionally well. In 1929, the chances of an MP acquiring a government post of some kind were about equal for ‘workers’ and ‘professionals’. At the top, the Cabinet posts were handed out with a fairly scrupulous regard to the claims of the trade unions. Further down, the ‘workers’ were more prominent among the junior payroll posts, such as the Whips’ Office, and the ‘professionals’ among the junior ministers. The pattern of appointment to vacancies that arose as Labour governed suggests that the ‘professionals’ were likely to be a growing presence, as indeed they were after 1945.

    Why did this happen? The longer historical account I provide shows that this was both a substantial break in the party’s trajectory before 1918, and that the break was unexpected. It is not easily explained by the party’s new electoral strategy, nor by its supposed penetration by pushy middle-class aspirants. The crucial distinction to appreciate, I argue, is that between the middle class presence, which rose, and its self-positioning, which remained diminished, and if anything subject to tighter control through new party structures and rules.



    The diminished self-positioning is best revealed through a further examination of candidate manifestos. I have contrasted the election addresses of the Labour and socialist candidates in 1895 with the Labour Party candidates in 1929. Of the 568 Labour candidates in 1929, I have identified election addresses for 346. Of these, 124 come from ‘professionals’ and 139 from ‘workers’. I have analysed them to assess the proportion that cite ‘social resemblance’ (‘I am like you’), ‘service’ (‘I have served you’) and ‘sacrifice’ (‘I have given something up for you’). In 1895, ‘professional’ Labour candidates tended to justify themselves using the language of ‘sacrifice’, while ‘workers’ cited ‘social resemblance’ and ‘service’. By 1929, however, the self-presentation of Labour candidates had converged and standardised. Background was mentioned much less. Of my sample of 346 Labour manifestos in 1929, over three-quarters provide no significant information on the candidate’s social origins at all, contenting themselves with presentation of the party’s policies and criticism of their opponents’ record. In the manifestos of ‘professionals’, claims of ‘sacrifice’ were now a minor theme. Only three manifestos made such appeals, citing respectively sacrifice of social position, popularity and financial security. More frequently, ‘professionals’ saw nothing in their background needing apology, and employed justification by works. 36% of their manifestos cited a record of public service. The three main categories were, in descending frequency, local government, health work, and social investigation. Tellingly too, by 1929, ‘workers’ also deployed themes of ‘service’ in their manifestos, and to almost the same degree. ‘Social resemblance’ – the representative grounding of the uncrystallized social movement – was now a minor theme. ‘I have lived amongst you, and I know your needs’ sufficed for older candidates in industrial seats. But elsewhere ‘service’ was now the representative grounding required by a more crystallized social movement. The proportion of ‘workers’’ manifestos in 1929 invoking ‘service’ is 34%, almost exactly the same as it is for ‘professionals’. The proofs of service offered were most commonly work on tribunals, pay councils and industrial boards. But other forms of service were quite similar to those cited by ‘professionals’: local council committees, the defence of jobs, pensions and benefits, and the pursuit of improvements in health and housing. War had brought the ‘workers’ into many of the same bodies cited by the ‘professionals’, in defence of the living standards of workers and their communities. After 1919, demonstrated especially in local government, such services formed the core of the party’s appeal. Indeed, the party’s 1928 statement Labour and the Nation, drafted by R. H. Tawney, argued for the ‘deliberate organisation of the resources of the whole community in the service of all’, and appealed to ‘all who bring their contribution of useful service to the common stock’.

    The General Election, July 1895: The address of every candidate as sent out to the various constituencies (London, 1895); British political party general election addresses: the National Liberal Club collection from Bristol University: part 2, 1923-1931 (microfilm, 16 reels), (Brighton, 1985).



    In essence, then, ‘service’ became an acceptable substitute for ‘resemblance’ both for ‘professionals’ and for ‘workers’ alike. It defined a shared party culture. This common party culture persisted once successful candidates reached Parliament. Labour MPs’ claims to represent now rested on what they did, and not on a pre-emptive claim about what they were. Linking data on social backgrounds with the data of the parliamentary division lists allows us to compare the backbench activities of Labour MPs. I have used the data on backbench dissent gathered by Mark Stuart and Philip Cowley to see whether the workers and professionals differed once they got into the House of Commons. My analysis shows that by 1929, Labour was not only the most socially diverse parliamentary party, but also the most politically cohesive. Dissent was generally low. In 948 Commons divisions between 1929 and 1931, 177 of the 288 Labour MPs did not cast a dissenting vote at all. This is unusually high for a governing party without a majority. But more importantly still, there is no significant correlation between social background and backbench dissent, and this holds true wherever the line is drawn between the middle-class and working-class MPs. Rebelliousness among Labour MPs was also unaffected by social origins. The rebels came from diverse social backgrounds. What the rebels had in common were not their social origins but factional alignments, overlain with personal dispositions, friendships and other contingencies.

    Mark Stuart and Philip Cowley, Dissension in the House of Commons, 1924 and 1929-1931 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], July 2002. SN: 4520.

    Within Parliament, ‘professionals’ and ‘workers’ alike were guided by a single code, which valued hard work, dedication, respect for boundaries and procedure, and loyalty to collective decisions. For both ‘professionals’ and ‘workers’, such a code avoided messy questions of authenticity – who was really or really still a worker? – with a new question of performance. As the code applied to ‘workers’, the primary offences were to ‘forget where you came from’, social climbing, and succumbing to an aristocratic embrace. As it applied to the ‘professional’ adherents of the party, the sins were ‘intellectualism’ (the dismissal of practical experience), ‘irresponsibility’ (indifference to the consequences of one’s thinking or actions for ordinary people), ‘adventurism’, ‘ambition’ and ‘crankishness’ (the attempt to use the labour movement for, respectively, excitement, personal advancement, or a pet cause). These were superficially different offences. But at a deeper level they were the same offence, against a largely agreed code of service to the movement and the class.



    This is therefore an account at odds with the idea of a party infiltrated by rich interlopers. I do not deny that there are examples of such interlopers to be found. But I do deny that they were typical. One way of testing the theory that middle-class candidates bought their way in to the Labour Party is to examine campaign expenditure for all candidates from the official returns. In each seat there is a ‘legal maximum’ for what may be spent by a candidate, and returns showing actual expenditure. Notoriously such returns do not capture spending between elections, or indirect spending such as the subsidy of an agent or the rental of party offices. But they do provide a useful snapshot of what could be done. Although there are certainly some examples of high spending middle- and upper-class candidates, there are also union-backed workers who spent up to the maximum. In 1929, indeed, ‘professionals’ actually spent significantly less on average – 37.7% of the legal maximum – than did the ‘workers’, who spent on average 45.5%. This partly reflects the relative insecurity of their seats, but not wholly so. The ‘workers’, on average, outspent the ‘professionals’ not only in the safe seats, where spending was in any case lower, but also in the marginal, unlikely and winnable seats where, as we can see from Table 2, candidacies were shared more evenly, and where spending was generally higher. The differences in spending in these less safe seats are not as great, and not statistically significant (around 47% for ‘professionals’ and 51% for ‘workers’ according to the definitions of ‘safety’ used). But they certainly do not suggest higher spending by the ‘professionals’. Since 1929 was an election in which the unions, bruised by the ‘contracting in’ provisions of the 1927 Trade Union Act, put in less than usual, these are noteworthy differences. They suggest that the typical case was not a rich individual flooding the local party with funds, but a ‘professional’ doing his or her best without union funds to keep the party banner aloft in often inhospitable territory.

    Election expenses: Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 25 July 1929, for Return of the Expenses of each Candidate at the General Election of May 1929, 16 April 1930, Parliamentary Papers 1929-30 (114) 755-853.

    In this regard, Oliver Baldwin, with whom we began, is an interesting case. When he got into Parliament in 1929, Baldwin was disappointed with the Party’s performance. Labour’s trade union leaders were too stupid and deferential to the civil servants to mount any serious challenge to Treasury orthodoxy. In February 1931, he left the Labour Party to sit as an Independent, close to, if only briefly, the New Party founded by Oswald Mosley. The led to a fatal breach with the local party in Dudley, and Baldwin was effectively dropped by them, and by the Labour national officials, as soon as he resigned the party whip. He was evidently loyal enough to be offered another Labour seat in October 1931, although it was the unwinnable seat of Rochester and Chatham.

    Baldwin’s relationship with the party is therefore certainly one of disjointness. To that degree, the photograph, with all its visible social asymmetries, does not lie. But it is not the whole story. For one thing, Baldwin seems not to have been typical of Labour’s ‘professional’ candidates, most of whom seem to have been much more loyal to the party leadership, energetic representatives of their constituents, and valued by the party for the professional contributions they could make. But for another, even he had to operate within the culture and rules the party had put in place by 1918. It was these that made it possible for the middle-class candidate to be readmitted to the Party. The relationship, in other words, is disjoint. But it is a quite specific form of disjointness: a service relationship, tightly defined by a party culture and structures which were made in common with candidates from very different social backgrounds.

    This is paperdartlogo750_turqa summary of a longer piece which is also discussed in my book Other People’s Struggles. As ever, if you would like to read it, please click on the paper-dart icon and send me a message.



    Read More
    Jun 12

    Adherents and Constituents

    In one of the chapters from my book Other People’s Struggles I provide a critical account of one part of social movement theory: the theory of the conscience constituent. I develop a new definition, based on motivations rather than expected outcomes, renaming the conscience constituent as the adherent: someone motivated to participate in social movement in order that others should benefit. The adherent, in my account, is contrasted with the constituent, who is motivated to participate by standing to benefit herself.

    Constituents and adherents, I argue in the book, can sometimes (not always) operate differently in a social movement’s work.  Sometimes it matters a great deal whether you are motivated as a direct beneficiary of the movement or standing outside it, as an adherent.  The difference in motivation can affect how, whether and when you can speak for the movement, or represent its views to others.  It can affect your ability to understand its demands, since some demands are harder, perhaps even impossible, for the outsider to understand.  If part of the purpose of the movement is self-empowerment, the help of others who are already-empowered may be of mixed value.  It can sometimes be hard for actors to build a common movement identity, or movement solidarity, if they are positioned differently by their motivation

    It is part of the argument of Other People’s Struggles that these difficulties do not have to arise.  Whether they do so or not is a function of what I call the orientation and ambition of the movement’s work


    Read More
    May 19

    Causes and combinations in the long nineteenth century


    n Other People’s Struggles, I define a combination as a social movement crane_fox_threein which participants are moved by conjoint norms. Norms have targets (those whose behaviour they seek to modify) and beneficiaries (those who benefit if the norm is observed). Conjoint norms are those where the targets and beneficiaries are the same people. A typical example is the conjoint norm of reciprocity which prompts you to ‘help those who have helped you’. I also define a cause as a social movement in which participants are moved by disjoint norms. Disjoint norms are those where the targets and beneficiaries are different people. A typical example of a disjoint norm is the norm of charity which prompts you to ‘help those less fortunate than you even if you never expect to get or need their help yourself’.

    Crane_letter_H_variantere I examine some social campaigns and movements in the long nineteenthcrane_fox_five century (1789-1914) in terms of the mix of norms involved. I look at three contrasting examples: the metropolitan anti-slavery movement, which is perhaps the best example of a cause; Chartism, which is a complicated mix of cause and combination; and ‘neighbouring’ and mutualism among the Victorian poor, which provides some good examples of combinations, especially when contrasted with charitable causes.

    The point of making these comparisons is two-fold. First, it is illustrative: to show how my theoretical concepts I develop in Other People’s Struggles can be applied in practice. Secondly, it is intended to explain certain features of these movements: in particular the use they were able to make of outsiders and non-beneficiaries – or adherents as I term them – and the nature of the disagreements which arose within the movements concerning participation and belonging; and control, or rule-making.


    Disjointness in Anti-slavery

    Crane_letter_In Britain, the anti-slavery movement that began in the 1780s was almost wholly a cause: that is, a movement of targets governed by disjoint norms. Nearly all supporters of the campaign were not, had never been, and never expected to become, slaves themselves. The norms that enjoined support for anti-slavery were self-generated by the beliefs, expectations and desires of the abolitionists themselves. They were derived from evangelical Christianity, Enlightenment rationalism, new humanitarian sensibilities concerning undeserved suffering, liberal political economy, and emergent imperial notions of British civilisation, liberty and trusteeship.

    The power of these mobilising norms came from shared patterns of belief and expectation among fellow targets. Although support for anti-slavery was discretionary, in the sense that it could not easily be demanded by the slaves themselves, it was certainly demanded by the abolitionists of each other.

    The abolitonists created moral pressure by invoking not so much, or so directly, the interests of the slave, as the values and identities of the petitioning communities themselves. Furthermore, these values were not so much universal principles of equality as local and grounded, and they were effective because they did not need to be invented for the purposes of anti-slavery.

    This inwardness was the secret of how anti-slavery mobilised such large numbers of people. The numbers involved were indeed vast and probably unmatched before or since, even by the demands for franchise reform at home. In 1792, for example, around 400,000 Britons – 13% of the adult male population – signed over 500 separate petitions against the slave trade or slavery itself.


    he slaves themselves were not entirely absent in this work, but they were the objects (acted-upon) rather than subjects (makers) of the campaigning. This is well illustrated in the famous 1787 Wedgwood cameo often worn as a badge by the abolitionist campaigners.

    Wedgwood cameo alone blended200

    It depicts an African slave in chains kneeling, as Thomas Clarkson, the movement’s first historian put it, ‘in a supplicating posture’.  Above, a motto reads, ‘as if he was uttering the words himself,— Am I not a Man and a Brother?’  It was enormously popular among abolitionists. Anthony Appiah suggests that the Wedgwood cameo enjoins the viewer to ‘see me as someone like yourself’.  But that is not quite right, for the motto and kneeling image are at odds with each other.  The motto makes, in the form of a negative interrogative, an assertion of status and equality which the docile, pleading image denies. The slave is not ‘someone like yourself’, because he is placed on his knees as the white abolitionists – the invisible objects of his appeal – are not, have not been, and never expect to be. It is a piece of ventriloquism, captured in Clarkson’s comment that the words are produced ‘as if he were uttering the words himself’.

    Crane_letter_T_varianthe disjointness of the norms of anti-slavery is also apparent when we examine the relationship between the British abolitionists and those slaves who were not on their knees, especially those who rose in revolt first in Haiti in the French Caribbean in the 1790s and then in the three great slave revolts in the British Caribbean in the years between the ending of the Napoleonic Wars and emancipation itself in 1833: Barbados (1815-16), Demerara (1823) and Jamaica (1831-2). The slaves made what use they could of the abolitionists’ ideals, but they could not invoke them for themselves with the same authority. However active they were in wearing down the resistance of the Caribbean planters, they were, with respect to the metropolitan movement, the beneficiaries of the abolitionists’ self-defined obligations. Christian slaves could appeal as converts to the values which their adopted religion held dear, but the theological discussions which defined religious obligation and its implications for slavery were reserved for a white clergy which they could not join. For their part, the white abolitionists acted, to use their own now archaic phrase, ‘in behalf’ of the slaves (meaning ‘in the interest of, as a friend or defender of, for the benefit of’) rather than ‘on behalf’ of them (meaning ‘on the part of, in the name of, as the agent or representative of’).  Acting ‘in behalf’ of the slaves could be done more easily when the slaves themselves could be presented as victims of repression, rather than agents of their own emancipation. In short, the slave leaders were obliged to allow their campaigning to be shaped by the demands of the metropolitan setting, but not the other way around. The relationship was characterised by the asymmetry which marks disjointness.

    However, such disjointness, however, far from being a source of weakness for the anti-slavery movement, seems to have been the secret of its capacity to mobilize. It is hard to know for sure to what degree the beneficiaries resented asymmetry, but friction seems absent even in places where we might expect to see it, had it been significant. Slave songs, for example, tended to praise the abolitionists and curse the planters for failing to listen to them. They had nothing but good words for those who tried to help them.

    This was doubtless partly a matter of the necessities created by distance and desperation. The beneficiaries of anti-slavery were spatially remote from the abolitionists, and had suffered ‘social death’ – the entire loss of political and social rights – on being enslaved. They were therefore in a weak position to set any limits on the expectations, rewards and sanctions that the abolitionists imposed on each other. But the lack of friction may also have been a result of what in Other People’s Struggles I term the orientation and ambition of the metropolitan anti-slavery movement. The anti-slavery movement was oriented towards power. It had identified the main interest of the slave – the ending of the slave trade and emancipation – and the places where leverage could best be brought to realise it – judicial rulings in the British courts and parliamentary legislation. Inasmuch as the metropolitan movement oriented itself towards altering identities and values, it concerned itself with expressing new white activist identities, such as those of the civilized emancipators or humanitarians, whose newly critical stance towards slavery served to exemplify their benevolence, or newly forming ‘freeborn’ British identities. Inasmuch as it oriented itself towards empowerment, it was less concerned with autonomous slave agency than with the empowering of disenfranchised or marginal constituencies such as Quakers and Methodists, or the commercial middle classes, in the politics of the nation. These judgments and priorities were not seriously contested by the beneficiaries: they seemed obvious and indisputable. In the power orientation, it made sense to focus efforts around what would best achieve the legislative goal. Anti-slavery therefore pursued its goal very largely through disjoint means.

    Crane_letter_variant_When work was oriented otherwise things were different. The narration of slave experience was much harder to do vicariously. Anti-slavery organisations certainly edited and even semi-fictionalised slave narratives in the interests of the

    campaign’s main orientation: persuading British audiences to feel pity for the slave and empowered as emancipators. The instrumental value of testimony as a contribution to public campaigning and legislative change depended upon being shaped in these ways. But the expressive value of testimony, however, could not be achieved vicariously. It needed self-representation, and black writers working in this orientation were wary of becoming mere mouthpieces of disjoint abolitionism. The best example is the writing of the ex-slave Olaudah Equiano, whose Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789) was widely read and influential. For about five years after 1788, Equiano and other self-styled ‘sons of Africa’ lobbied politicians, toured Britain and Ireland addressing public meetings and wrote repeatedly to the press and to influential patrons to advocate an end to slavery.

    That said, most of the work of the anti-slavery movement was not expressive in orientation, but concerned with achieving an agreed legislative goal in an undisputed interest. It was this, reinforced by the exigencies of desperation and distance, that explains why it was little troubled by disjointness. We cannot know for sure whether disjointness was silently resented or undermined, accepted out of distance and desperation, or valued as the condition of anti-slavery’s success. But the lack of complaint among those who were not distant and could speak for themselves suggests that the beneficiaries of anti-slavery are better seen as accepting the disjointness of the arrangements, rather than resenting them. What they saw was that the self-generated and self-validating motivations of the white abolitionists went deeper than the shallow sense of identity they shared with the Africans as ‘men and brothers’, or even as fellow Christians. That was what made metropolitan anti-slavery so effective. If so, then it was not despite the absence, silence or weakness of the beneficiaries but because of it that the anti-slavery organisations could be so effective. But that was, in turn, because they were engaged in work of a certain orientation and ambition.

    Chartism: a mix of conjointness and disjointness

    Crane_letter_M_varianty second example is the Chartist movement of the mid nineteenth century. There has been a long debate concerning the class composition of the Chartist movement, and whether the middle-class supporters of Chartism were trying more to help others or help themselves. Marxists have tended to see the emergence and defeat of Chartism, and of the making of the English working class more generally, as the disentangling of working-class movements from middle-class sponsorship. It was the first signs of this in-dependence that Engels had regarded as the principal novelty of Chartism. Revisionist accounts of Chartism, in contrast, see it as less about class con-flict as Marxists understand it, and more about the demand for satisfactory political representation. Such a rethinking allows for the possibility of radical alliance between disenfranchised workers and at least some sections of the middle-classes. These were not, of course, the capitalists, landowners or political placemen, but those ‘uneasy’ middle-class elements who could plausibly locate themselves alongside the politically excluded. Such disenfranchised or impoverished middle-class elements were potential direct beneficiaries of the Chartist demands. They could be approached as fellow-sufferers.

    In this respect, the Chartists sought a combination of ‘uneasy’ middle-class elements and plebeian radicals as fellow beneficiaries of a popular movement. However, there were also others drawn to Chartism as a cause. These were the so-called ‘gentlemanly radicals’ who sought and achieved leadership within Chartism not through a shared class identity but by breaking with their own class. They did not come from politically excluded groups. They were mostly from gentry or military backgrounds, they could already vote, and indeed one or two of them actually sat in Parliament. Nor could they be identified as allies in the same way as other ‘uneasy’ middle-class reformers. They were at the head of the movement not as a consequence of identities or interests in common, but as a consequence of breaking with social position, or at least managing to present themselves as having done so. They had excluded themselves.

    Crane_letter_For the gentlemanly leaders, Chartism was a cause and not a combination. Did this matter? For E. P. Thompson, the gentlemanly leaders of the 1830s were a sign of immaturity in the working-class movement. However, more recent work has seen them not as an impediment to be pushed aside by growth, or as a sign of backwardness, but as the focal point of what might otherwise have been dissipated radical energies. What mattered was not their class background but their willingness to adopt and take risks for the political positions of the Charter.

    The Chartists were in a stronger position to decide the terms on which they were helped by the gentlemanly radicals. They could dispose of those who tried to lead them, especially if their leadership failed to respect the Chartists’ own commitments and style of politics. On the other hand, the gentlemanly leaders also helped to define movement identities. Rather than representing an already-formed constituency, they partly created those they represented in the act of representing them. They also partly defined the values by which they were judged, sometimes coming close to orienting the movement around themselves. This could leave their followers feeling oddly wrong-footed when they tried to challenge gentlemanly leadership. The wealth of the gentlemanly leader made him independent. He could not be easily bought or otherwise coerced. But in another sense this was a weakness: as an unpaid leader he could not always be easily held to account.


    There was an essential ambivalence in the identity of the gentlemanly leader. Had he ceased to be a gentleman or not? Much of his value to the movement and his claim to lead it rested on his remaining one. It was this social position which provided the security to act unpaid, defy harassment, and spurn bribes. The Chartists were encouraged to take pride in the fact that gentleman were willing to serve the cause; indeed, their electing gentlemen to their executive committees was sometimes proposed as evidence of working-class discernment, and hence in itself an argument for widening the suffrage. But it also implied a degree of dependence.

    Gentlemanly leaders could not get away simply with presiding from above, but had to position themselves so as to speak for the excluded. Radical plebeians could invoke concrete, singular and local embodiments of the people, placing themselves among those they spoke for. This was harder for the gentlemen, who tended to invoke abstracted plural ones (the ‘labouring masses’) and identify not with the class but with the movement itself. Their preferred technique was to make ostentatious sacrifices sufficient to bridge the social distance between them and those for whom they claimed to speak. The more successful among them recognised the need for solidarity and shared risk. They attended banned meetings, courted arrest, and got themselves locked up. They achieved a form of participatory conjointness through common work and precarious experiences within the Chartist movement itself.

    Crane_letter_Y_variantet the repeated emphasis on personal sacrifice suggests the incompleteness of these gestures. To make oneself poor is not the same as being poor, because it is the result of choice. This is

    the source both of its power to impress and its incompleteness. To give up a privilege for others may be praiseworthy, precisely because it is voluntary. But such voluntariness also marks it as impossible for the involuntarily unprivileged. To give up a privilege for others is itself an expression of privilege. Such sacrifices could therefore not achieve the conjointness of identity with the unprivileged, but only a disjointness mediated by gestures and performance.

    Conjointness among Victorian poor neighbours

    Crane_letter_A_variant different set of norms, exhibiting much stronger overlap between targets and beneficiaries – greater conjointness, in other words – is also visible in nineteenth century Britain. They are visible in the great welter of unorganised self-help activity in poor neighbourhoods, identified by observers of poverty as diverse as Frederick Engels and Charles Booth. The Victorian poor lived lives of high risk, but had little social capital, so they tend-ed to invest in arrangements which spread risk through reciprocity.

    ‘Neighbouring’ enabled the poor to deal with maternity, illness, death, childrearing and childcare, the loan of clothes, household equipment, unexpected expenses, funeral arrangements and orphaning. It was a self-regulating system, in which unneighbourliness was penalised by the withdrawal of co-operation or social ostracism. Indeed, the reciprocal norm was so powerful in poor neighbourhoods that almost as much disapproval was expressed of the non-reciprocal gift from a neighbour, which implied an alienating claim of superiority inappropriate among peers, as the ‘bad neighbour’ who disappeared leaving debts unpaid.

    But such tensions were primary forms of resentment, failures of compliance with the norm, rather than dispute over the status of the norms themselves. The norms self-policed through the everyday interactions between neighbours and kin. In contrast to anti-slavery, and even more than Chartism, targets and beneficiaries strongly overlapped, were much more visible to each other, and were their own rule-makers.

    The middle-classes talked about this as ‘the charity of the poor to the poor’ and some historians have been willing to annex it to a general history of philanthropic kindness. But the relationships involved are for the most part quite distinct from charity, especially in the strong overlap – the conjointness, in other words – between givers and receivers – which is different from that in a charitable relationship. When they gave under disjoint charity arrangements – which they also did very generously – the poor shared with donors from other classes a status as targets of a norm which they did not share with those who were merely beneficiaries of the norm. When, on the other hand, they co-operated conjointly with each other, as they did when ‘neighbouring’, they were both targets and beneficiaries.

    Crane_letter_C_variantonjoint neighbouring did not characterize all the relationships in a poor neighbourhood. Nor was it a system of relaxed kindliness. On the contrary, the usual disposition was one of cautious suspicion. Resources were sparse, and life was tough, so neighbouring involved careful, sometimes even callous, calculations of how useful someone might be to you. Nevertheless, the value of conjointness, and the marker of its difference from disjoint charity, was that it was controlled by its beneficiaries.

    Crane_letter_Although ‘neighbouring’ is a fairly pure form of combination, other campaigns and causes present a more mixed picture. The Victorian poverty relief societies, for example, provide an example of how complex the effects of partial disjointness could be. Like anti-slavery and the other emancipatory campaigns, but unlike neighbouring arrangements, charity was disjoint and discretionary. The charitable gift made by the donor could not be demanded by the recipient, nor could it be fully reciprocated, but only answered insufficiently with gratitude and deference. The decision of whether or not to give, and on what terms, belonged to the donors. The poor could challenge individual failures to stick to the rules, but not challenge the rules themselves, nor the entitlements of the rule-makers to decide what the rules should be.


    Whether they wished to do so is a matter of unresolved historical debate. For some, the disjointness of Victorian philanthropy – the way it differently positioned the helpers and the helped – did not much matter. In narrow monetary terms, it could be more rewarding to be the beneficiary of the rich’s disjoint norm of charity than the poor’s conjoint norm of reciprocity.

    Deferential relationships were not necessarily experienced as demeaning. Recipients were certainly made to feel that they had failed to show sufficient independence, but many of them already believed this of themselves. If that is correct, we might surmise that disjoint norms could operate satisfactorily, even when the beneficiaries played only a small part in their working. It required only that the targets’ intentions were not suspect, that they observed certain necessary decencies, and that the beneficiaries did not regard the consequential status differences as humiliating.

    Other writers have pointed out that this account rests mostly on interpretations made by donors and not recipients. They have been sceptical that charity was either welcome or effective. Necessity silenced the recipients from overt criticism of charity, but their silence should not be read as evidence of consensus. In the interstices of the interactions and ‘off stage’, it is possible to glimpse some of the contorted signals and hidden scripts by which the deferential poor signalled their dislike of a system they were forced to accept. Most tellingly of all, whenever they had any choice in the matter, they opted for conjoint provision and mutuality over disjointness and dependency. We cannot be sure how much the Victorian poor resented charity. But to the degree to which they did, it was mostly disjointness that they disliked.

    Crane_letter_T_varianthe obvious contrast to charity, therefore, is with the friendly societies. In origin, the friendly societies were quintessential examples of mutual aid. They were autonomous, locally-based societies governed by self-generated, conjoint norms. They relied heavily on monetary contributions from the poor themselves. They were also strict on suspected spongers. What per-mitted such strictness was that the rules were fundamentally agreed between the participants, who were all in an important sense in the same boat, more or less co-existing in the overlapping categories of target and beneficiary. It was because the rules were agreed and enforced conjontly, in other words, that they could be harsh. In return, the friendly societies offered firm entitlements, rather than the expectation of discretionary generosity to be obtained from disjoint charity.

    Probably the entitlements afforded by conjointness were part of the attraction. But what was preferred was not just reliability but control, both over the application of rules to cases, and the determining of the rules themselves. The friendly societies were much more popular than the county societies, in which gentry or clerical patrons rather than working-class beneficiaries made the rules, let alone employer clubs, suspected by the re-ipients as serving their employers’ interests more than their own. Employers and patrons, like charitable status, might make schemes more financially secure, but they also introduced disjointness into them.



    Crane_letter_I_variant have only sketched out these ideas briefly.  But they offer some preliminarycrane_fox_four support for the idea that relationships inside social movements may vary according to the mix of targets and beneficiaries participating, as well as the orientation and ambition of the movement’s work.  In any movement guided by norms, there will be primary friction concerning the application of the norms to specific cases.  This could arise, for example, over the precise nature and implications of the obligations the targets have taken on, or over the eligibility of specific beneficiaries under the rules they have made.   But where targets and beneficiaries co-exist within the same movement, there is also the potential for secondary conflict over the content, making and enforcing of norms.  The guiding intuition that this suggests to me is as follows.  You and I can work together in one way on matters that benefit us both, and on matters that benefit third parties; but we have to work in a different way, if we can, on matters that benefit only one of us.  

    Crane_letter_variant_We have also identified several different stopping-points on the spectrum ofcrane_fox_eight conjointness and disjointness.  At one end, we considered the metropolitan anti-slavery movement, where the relationship between the target and the beneficiary was one of almost pure disjointness.  The target’s contribution was a gift made without expectation of return from the beneficiary.  That is not to say that the target gained nothing from her participation, but only that what she gained came not from the beneficiary, but from other targets, such as the approval of her peers.  The beneficiary was treated almost as a blank space on to which the target projected her activity.  The Victorian poverty charity, by contrast, offered an example of an impure or asymmetric disjoint relationship. It was a two-way relationship – an exchange in other words – but an unequal one.  Something was given – money, goods, or an ‘opportunity’ – and something else was given back – gratitude, deference, or a promise to reform.  But the two were not considered to be of equal value, at least not in a society like nineteenth century Britain in which dependency was so disliked.  Further along still, we have the conjoint relationships in which the exchanges are made on a more equal basis.   In some cases, what is exchanged is literally the same thing, as when working-class neighbours took in each other’s washing, each when the other was out working her shift.  This I term a relationship of pure conjointness.  In other cases, the exchange consists of things that are not the same but are valued equally.  This is what I will call impure or functional conjointness.  The nearest thing to the latter that we have so far encountered are the internal relationships in Chartism, between the gentlemanly leaders and the artisans and workers of the membership, although there were twinges of disjointness here too.  An exchange of the same thing can claim to be the purer form of conjointness because it does not contain any ambiguity over the relative value of different services.

    If you would like to read the full version of this chapter, please use the logo to the left to send me a message.


    Read More
    May 01

    The Conscience Constituent Reconsidered

    The term conscience constituent is used by social movement theorists to describe a participant who does not stand to benefit directly if the movement accomplishes its goal. The conscience constituent can be contrasted with the beneficiary constituent who does stand to benefit directly.

    Conscience constituents are thought to be important in some social movements because they help the movement get started when its beneficiary constituents are unable to co-operate sufficiently to act collectively to achieve their goal. This is a more common problem than one might think because even sharing an interest with other beneficiary constituents is not always sufficient to motivate participation. A rational, self-interested beneficiary constituent will ask himself not only what the goal is worth to him, but how far his own participation is a necessary condition of achieving it. It may be that he can take a ‘free ride’ on others’ participation, and secure the goal without needing to do anything himself.

    Conscience constituents, self-propelled by their own consciences, can therefore be a useful stimulus for collective action. Acting as unpaid ‘entrepreneurs’, they can help ‘latent’ movements get started or grow, by providing the initial confidence or organizational framework within which rational self-interest can promote co-operation.

    However, social movement theory has had remarkably little to say about the motivations of the conscience constituent. This is because from a rational choice perspective motivations are not the primary focus of the analysis. Preferences are ‘given’. What matters is how rational actors pursue them individually and collectively. Like altruism more generally, the action of the conscience constituent is treated as resulting from a peculiar preference for the satisfaction of others’ interests which is no less self-interested than a preference for the satisfaction of her own.

    I think this approach does not do enough to illuminate its subject-matter. The term conscience constituent implies that her participation is a matter of conscience, but no argument is offered in support of this implication, and the consequences for the social movement are not considered. There are four principal difficulties to consider.

    The first difficulty is that the conscience constituent is defined in terms of expected outcomes rather than motivations. What matters is whether individuals stand to benefit from goal accomplishment, rather than whether their standing to benefit is the ground on which they participate. The difference matters. It is quite possible that those who stand to benefit from the ending of a social wrong campaign to end it because they believe it morally right to do so, and not only (or mostly, or even at all) because they would benefit themselves. The test is whether they would still campaign even if they were not themselves beneficiaries. I am sure that many would. They might even disagree vigorously with other beneficiaries whose participation was motivated only by what they might get for themselves. They might find it easier to find common ground with non-beneficiaries also motivated by moral considerations.

    The important distinction, in other words, lies between actors motivated in different ways, not between actors who stand to benefit and actors who do not. The problem with the conscience constituent is that it leads us – through the use of the term conscience – to imagine someone motivated in a certain way, but then defines her not according to motivations but expected outcomes.

    The second problem is that although the term conscience is used, nothing is said about what sort of motivation conscience is. There are many motivations besides receiving benefits that might motivate people to act in others’ interests, and they cannot all be boiled down to conscience without distortion. Conscience is also a complex motivation, and reliance on it can carry costs for social movements. Existing theory tends, mistakenly in my view, to treat it as a useful source of free energy.

    Thirdly, the approach works best with social movements oriented to the pursuit of already-formed – or crystallized – interests. But social movements work in other orientations too. They are not only concerned with contesting the neglect of their interests by the outside world. They are also concerned with expressing historically submerged identities and unappreciated needs, and with empowering people who have been denied autonomy to act for themselves. In the first of these orientations, the wrong consists in the denial of self-expression. In righting it, what needs to be said often cannot be said by outsiders, but only by those who have been denied their voice. In the second orientation, the wrong consists in the denial of autonomy or selfhood. In righting it, the work must be done by those who have themselves been wronged because only by acting for themselves can they repair the injury to their selves. Here too, the outsider may seem out of place.

    Finally, the definition of the conscience constituent as someone who does not stand to benefit directly from goal accomplishment leaves open the possibility that she might benefit indirectly. Such indirect benefits might be considerable, perhaps even greater than the direct benefits received by beneficiary constituents. If so, and if these indirect benefits were the grounds of her participation, such a conscience constituent would be close to being a beneficiary. Her participation would be motivated in a similar way.








    In my book Other People’s Struggles I therefore redeploy these terms in new ways. I reserve the term constituents for participants in a social movement whose participation is grounded in their standing to gain significantly from the achievement of the movement’s goal, and redeploy the term adherents for participants whose participation is not so grounded, either because they do not stand to benefit at all from goal accomplishment, or only do so in trivial or minor ways; or because their standing to benefit more substantially does not ground their participation.

    Constituents corresponds to beneficiary constituents, but substituting motivation for expected outcomes. Adherents corresponds to the subset of conscience constituents created by a more restrictive application of the requirement that they should not benefit indirectly, and, again, the substitution of motivation for expected outcomes.

    Put simply, constituents are those who put resources into the movement on the grounds that  – or others of whom they are one – they will gain from goal accomplishment; and adherents are those who put resources into the movement in order that others alone should benefit.

    Once we have defined these actors not as conscience constituents but adherents we are ready to do two things.

    First, we can make some predictions concerning the motivations of adherents and the types of collective action they prompt. What sorts of motivation bring adherents, motivated as they are, into collective action? What makes them participate?

    Secondly, having distinguished between participants on the basis of motivation, we can make some predictions concerning how they will respectively behave. Does it matter that some participants are motivated in one way – as beneficiaries – and others by conscience (and other ways)? In what types of work might it matter? And what sorts of problems does it create?


    Read More