Letters from England, 1895: Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling
These never-before translated dispatches from London to a Russian journal by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling offer a unique insight into their lives and radical politics, and the Victorian England in which they wrote. The collection is edited by Stephen Williams and Tony Chandler, and translated by Francis King.
In 1895, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling were two of the best-known socialists in Britain, mixing with the most influential figures of their time, from Keir Hardie to William Morris. The couple were committed to building a socialist political force based on the ‘scientific’ theories of Eleanor’s father Karl and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels.
Marx and Aveling’s ‘letters’ to Russia from England offer a unique perspective on British socialism as it entered its crucial phase, which culminated in the foundation of the Labour Party in 1900. As they reported from the heart of capitalist Britain, a Liberal government fell, having failed to keep its promises to labour. The remainder of the year saw the election of a Conservative-led Unionist administration, an underwhelming general election performance by socialists, and the death of Engels.
These lively, accessible letters include sharp reflections on Victorian cultural figures including Oscar Wilde, Annie Besant, and the ‘new woman’ novelists. An introductory essay sheds light on the authors’ complex, tumultuous life and work together, and reveals the friendships and political connections Karl Marx, Engels and the authors had with prominent Russian revolutionaries. The book will be of interest to students, historians, and all those interested in left politics and movements in Britain.
Letter 1: The London School Board and the controversy over religious education.
Letter 2: The first parish and district council elections and their impact on rural class power.
Letter 3: The London County Council elections and poverty relief.
Letter 4: The unemployment commission, prohibition, and the trial of Oscar Wilde.
Letter 5: The 1895 general election and the Tory cabinet analysed.
Letter 6: The new Unionist Government and the failed electoral tactics of labour.
Letter 7: Trade unions and their response to immigration.
These ‘letters’ from Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling to a Russian socialist journal provide dissections of the major political and cultural trends of their day from a distinctive Marxist perspective. The editors’ introduction and notes offer perceptive commentaries on Marx and Aveling’s productive but troubled partnership during this period, as well as a full account of their approach to British mid-1890s oppositional politics. This book will be necessary reading for those interested in the intellectual and personal relationships within the Marx-Engels circle, and socialist and feminist history more generally.
- Florence Boos, University of Iowa
Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling’s letters from England (to Russia), published for the first time in this wonderfully scholarly and readable edition, lead us through the revolutionary politics and practical reforms of 1895 Britain in the company of a dramatic milieu of international socialists – trades unionists, journalists, exiled revolutionaries, refugees – from which were forged the powerful social democratic parties of Europe.
We also encounter Keir Hardie, the London Trades Councils and the TUC, who among others advocated for government investment in factories and public works to relieve Britain’s four to five million unemployed, abolition of the Poor Law, an eight-hour day, reform of the House of Lords, and land reform.
The letters alternately hector and inform: Edward’s rash and sectarian judgements give way to Eleanor’s warmer, more thoughtful intelligence - even as the tragedies of her later life unfold.
- Sally Alexander, Emerita Professor of Modern History, University of London, founding editor of History Workshop Journal