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Summary Article: Hyndman, Henry Mayers from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English socialist. The first important British-born Marxist, he founded the Democratic Federation 1881 (renamed the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1884) and devoted his life to revolutionary propaganda and agitation.

Hyndman was born in London to wealthy upper-middle-class parents. After leaving Trinity College, Cambridge, he played cricket for the Sussex county eleven, travelled in Australia and the USA, and worked for the Pall Mall Gazette as a war correspondent and specialist on Indian affairs 1871–80. In 1880, he read Karl Marx's Das Kapital, and was instantly converted to communism. The following year he founded the Democratic Federation and published England For All, which presented Marxist theories in popular form. Karl Marx was furious to discover that the book contained no mention of himself; Hyndman argued that British workers would have been put off communism by foreign names, but he failed to convince Marx and Friedrich Engels, who refused to speak to him again.

Hyndman edited the SDF newspaper Justice, and tried to steer other British socialists in the direction of Marxism, but his superior manner and uncertain temper tended to sharpen divisions in the movement. The Socialist League broke away from the SDF in 1884, and Hyndman's influence was further weakened by the rise of the Independent Labour Party after 1893. He endeavoured to mobilize support among the unemployed and was tried and acquitted for his part in the West End riots of 1886. It was widely (though mistakenly) believed that he was the inspiration behind the London dock strike in 1889.

Hyndman stood for Parliament four times in Burnley without success. His attempts at cooperation with the Labour Party failed, and the SDF remained a small fringe group on the extreme left of British politics. In 1911, it merged into the British Socialist Party, which opposed British involvement in World War I. Hyndman, who was strongly anti-German, then formed a rival National Socialist Party 1916, which later reverted to the SDF name. During the war, he was a Labour representative on the consumer council of the ministry of food.

Hyndman was a gifted propagandist, and spent a large part of his inherited fortune on spreading Marxist ideas. These influenced the wider socialist movement, which was growing in Britain in the 1880s, helping to distinguish it from older forms of radicalism, but his own position soon became marginal.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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