|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER SIX: THE LATE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES.
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The second area of association was with the revival in socialism that took place from the 1880's. (1) Certain groups in particular in this revival had connections with vegetarianism, and the first of these was the Fellowship of the New Life. Founded in 1883 by a group of young men in London, it resembled a number of such small discussion groups and intellectual cliques of the period, with a membership drawn mainly from the lower-middle class - journalists, higher grade clerks etc. They were mostly of lapsed religious background, often rather cast adrift in the expanding London of the 1880's, and looking for some purpose or transcendental philosophy that could unite their experience and make sense of the world. (2) Almost immediately it became apparent that there were two impulses in the Fellowship, the more directly political, and the inner and personal. A break-away group, organised by Pease, Podmore and Bland, formed themselves into the Fabians, and the two societies went their different ways: 'one to sit among the dandelions and the other to organise the docks'. (3) The separation was amicable and there remained a certain overlap of membership; individual Fabians remained in this early period open to the influence of Fellowship ideas concerning the importance of spiritual values in socialism and the virtues of the simple life. Direct influence, however, waned as the Fabians gained a more distinctive character and political purpose around the Webbs' theory of permeation and state collectivism. In 1883 an attempt was made to realise one recurrent interest in the founding of the short-lived community at Doughty Street. (4) Many in these broadly Fabian circles were vegetarian, and vegetarianism as a topic turns up in articles and debates in this milieu. Henry Salt, (5) together with his wife Kate and brother-in-law, Jim Joynes, were vegetarian; as were also William Jupp, Herbert Burrows (possibly slightly later), Percy Redfern, Katherine St John Conway, Edward Carpenter and many of his circle. (6) Frank Podmore was vice president of the Food Reform Society in the early eighties. (7) Beatrice Webb followed a vegetarian diet, though she was never a publicist, (8) unlike Shaw who has remained vegetarianism's most famous advocate. (9)
By the mid 1890's the London based Fellowship had lost its impetus, and the centre of the movement moved to Croydon, where it became absorbed into the world of the Brotherhood Church and the Tolstoyan anarchists. This move reinforced the lower-middle-class background. Croydon had been a centre for free religious ideas, particularly those linked with socialism, and Jupp had lead a group there as well as being active in the Fellowship. Nellie Shaw, a dressmaker, has left a vivid account of this world of socialists, (10) gathered around the Brotherhood church, founded there in 1894 by Kenworthy. (11) Carlyle, Emerson and Ruskin were leading influences and particular emphasis was placed on the Sermon on the Mount and on Jesus as ‘a living social reformer' : (12) 'The Kingdom of God fulfils itself in the fraternal life of humanity'. (13) They kept open platform for: 'atheists, spiritualists, individualists, communists, anarchists, ordinary politicians, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists and anti-vaccinationists'. (14) They founded a co-operative store which sold vegetarian food, and aimed to conduct trade without private profit and in a simple and honest way.
A major influence on these circles was Tolstoy. Kenworthy had visited him in 1896; and gathered in Croydon were a number of Russian exiles and Tolstoyans. These included, Aylmer Maude, Tolstoy's translator, and Tcherkoff, at whose Free Age Press, Tolstoy's works were published. Redfern describes how Tcherkoff and his printers regularly sat down to a vegetarian meal together. (15) Seed Time also carried a number of articles on Tolstoy, mainly by Rix, and Axon wrote on him and his vegetarianism for Dietetic Reformer. (16) The principal themes they took from Tolstoy were: - that the state was evil and founded on force; that pacifism was the true way; that the land belonged to all and working it in direct contact with nature, in brotherhood, for bread labour and not money, was the ideal; that sexual chastity was the highest form of life. Tolstoy was himself an advocate of vegetarianism, which for him was bound up with inducing a higher, more spiritual nature in man and with the reduction of carnality. (17) The issue of celibacy - known in these circles as the S.Q., or sex question - was a source of much debate and some conflict. (18) The community established at Purleigh by Kenworthy tended to support Tolstoy on this. (19)
In 1898 a group lead by Nellie Shaw and Arnold Eiloart (20) founded a second community at Whiteway in the Cotswolds, aiming to realise the ideals of labour on the land, freedom from property (they burnt the title deeds) freedom from a coercive state (they refused to use money or pay rates) and free association between the sexes, with women as equals and no longer chattels of their husbands. (21) Most were vegetarians. (22)
Economically the colony was never fully supported by the land, but it relied also on gifts, outside work like dressmaking or the proceeds of Protheroe's successful bakery which sold its stoneground produce both to vegetarian stores and conventional outlets.
This brings us to the third area of association, which is with the revival in provincial socialism in the 1890's. Here the background is more distinctly working class. (26) The principal carriers here were the Clarion movement and the Labour Church. In the Labour Church, founded by Trevor in 1891, religious feeling and spiritual advance were combined with socialist aims for the material betterment of society, and in this religion of socialism, Trevor, like many of the period, reinterpreted evolution, in his case as a movement of consciousness towards God, and he found in the labour movement, the carrier of that consciousness. (27) This northern socialism often retained its non-conformist background, and the Labour Church brought elements of emotion, fellowship and commitment to socialism's economic message. There was considerable overlap with the Independent Labour Party founded in 1893. Blatchford in his vastly successful Clarion and in the touring vans and societies that had sprung from it, put forward a populist version of socialism, advocating in more everyday and jocular terms many of the ideas of Morris. Blatchford himself seems to have had some commitment to or sympathy with vegetarianism. (28)
It was a form of socialism that stressed the role of consciousness and the inner development of the individual; thus the Fellowship declared one of its objects to be: 'the cultivation of a perfect character in each and all', (29) and it gave a central value to the claims of individual personality. The Mackenzies emphasise how for the early Fabians, personal values were at the core of social change. Yeo argues that this emphasis is a distinctive characteristic of this period in socialism, in contrast to other periods when such emphasis on change in the individual is more often associated with a religious view and indirectly with the defence of the status quo. 'Inner development' or 'the religion of socialism' were seen as in harmony with wider social change, and there was no felt conflict between the development of the individual and of society. (30) The real evil lay in exploitation and ruthless competition. Their version of man explicitly rejected that of Social Darwinism, or of laissez-faire liberalism, with their emphasis on the war of man against man and the essential antagonism at the heart of society, and they recast evolution so as to stress instead moral, spiritual and. social advance, and human co-operation.
The emphasis on the individual was also expressed in the great value that they placed on voluntarism. For the anarchists, the basis of society must lie in the free consent of individuals. As yet, state collectivism had not achieved the dominance within socialist thought that it was to after the First World War, and socialism still embraced a variety of movements like guild socialism, syndicalism and anarchism that emphasised the role of the individual and the exercise of power at that level. A figure like Dugald Semple carried on this tradition. (31)
It was a socialism that stressed brotherhood rather than class war, which was seen more as a wrong to be healed than a flame to be fanned. Sometimes self-conscious attempts were made to form relationships across the class barriers, as for example by Carpenter at Millthorpe.
It was also a time when socialism stood for joy and hope. Redfern describes how imprisoned as an assistant in a drapers shop he met a socialist teacher and reader of the Clarion: 'of all the people who came into the shop, he alone stood for the joy of life'. (33) The sense of exhilaration and of freedom was a fundamental part of socialism's appeal, and relates also as we shall see, to the themes of the simple life, which overlap extensively with this socialist milieu.
These particular socialist groupings also offered comradely association and emotional warmth. (34) Nellie Shaw wrote of how she and others found in the Fellowship something that appealed to their idealism and that drew on deeper beliefs than just abstract economic analysis. Redfern speaks of how among the northern socialists of the Huddersfield ILP, he found the economic doctrines of London 'clothed with warmth'; the socialism of the north was 'stronger and kindlier'. (35)
Not all socialists looked with favour on vegetarianism. Morris for one, found it incomprehensible. (36) What vegetarianism tends not to be connected with - and this remains a recurring feature – is Marxist interpretations. Marxism in Britain centred in the 1880's and '90s around the Social Democratic Federation, from which Morris' Socialist League had broken away in 1884. (37) Jim Joynes is unusual in being both a vegetarian and a member of SDP; however he was, like his brother-in-law Henry Salt, as much a simple-lifer as a socialist, (38) and in this period - he died in 1893 - divisions were not so clear as to prevent his belonging to the Fellowship of the New Life also. Hyndman, the leader of the SDP, disliked vegetarianism very much, and told Shaw roundly on a visit to the Salts in their cottage that:
When Hyndman saw the meal that Kate Salt had prepared, 'its utter simplicity', (40) he asked for a drink, and when none was forthcoming in this tee-total household, he made his excuses and left.
Tom Mann exemplified the Marxist criticism. Mann had in his earlier life been a vegetarian, but as he came into the orbit of the SDF, he increasingly saw problems in more structural, economic terms: 'that which weakened my ardour in this direction was recognition that however widely food reform might be diffused, it would never prove a cure of the economic ills I deplored. The fact was, I had not yet realised that the social evils I was cognisant of were economic in origin'. (41) Thrift and economy in working-class homes, Mann believed, only played into the hands of the employing and exploiting class, furthering the depression in wages and the process of immiseration. Salt was aware of this criticism and in an article on 'Socialists and Vegetarians' tried to argue that the two causes were really one, deriving from the same humanitarian feeling, and should advance together. (42)
The criticisms that the Marxists made derived from Marx's own of the utopian tradition, that it is woolly and idealistic with no real grasp of the means for the achievement of socialism; while those involved in pragmatic political activity around the unions or later the Labour Party, criticised the approach as insufficiently engaged with practical political objectives; and both, though perhaps especially the Marxists, find in this socialism and its associations with things like vegetarianism, a softness they deplore. This view has continued in the traditional assessment of this phase as an awkward transitional period from 'religious' perceptions to a more developed socialist approach, and writers from the Coles to E.P. Thompson have disliked its tone of 'cosmic mooning'. Recent interpretations, however, themselves the product of changes in socialist thought in the 1960's, have stressed instead the radical nature of the approach, with its expectations of a thorough-going transformation of all aspects of society. As these wider concerns were increasingly pushed to the side, in the late 1890's vegetarian socialists like Salt, Carpenter, and later Semple, tended to move out of the orbit of official socialism. The expectations that the New Society was around the corner or even that it was a practicable hope, began to fade, though some of these ideals remained to influence British socialism, particularly at its grass roots.