Social Democratic Federation

The Social Democratic Federation (SDF ) was the first socialist party in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1881 as a Democratic Federation, was at times a member of the Labour Party and went on in 1911 in the British Socialist Party.


The Social Democratic Federation emerged from its direct predecessor organization, the Democratic Federation. The background to the establishment of the first socialist party in Britain was an incipient estrangement between liberals and trade unionists or other representatives of the workers' movement. In Britain, the Liberal Party was to the 20th century, the political platform, were chosen on the workers' representatives in the House of Commons and regional parliaments.

In 1880, Henry Hyndman decided to found a new political party. Hyndman had previously unsuccessfully tried to collect as an independent candidate in the House of Commons. In the meantime he read some writings of Karl Marx and began more and more enthusiasm for socialist ideas. The Democratic Federation was finally founded in 1881 and was a reservoir for Socialists but also for representatives of radicalism, which found no political home more among liberals.

In 1884 the party was eventually renamed Social Democratic Federation and got a stronger socialist- Marxist profile, or what the often authoritarian acting chairman Hyndman opined. The SDF was able to quickly absorb a number of prominent individuals as members, such as William Morris, Eleanor Marx Aveling, Edward Aveling and George Lansbury. Friedrich Engels, however, remained skeptical. With the name change, the weekly Justice was lifted as the central organ of the party from the baptism. The newspaper won their existence even outright skeptics and opponents of the party or its leader Hyndman as authors such as Eduard Bernstein in the course.


When the SDF but split mainly because of various irregularities by Henry Hyndman on December 23, 1884 due to political differences, Engels wrote on 31 December to Friedrich Adolph Sorge: The Democratic Federation here has been blown up on Saturday. The adventurer Hyndman, who takes possession of the whole thing was exposed as Verhetzer among members, sub- bats of correspondence for the Council, and founder of bogus branches in the provinces for the accommodation of his creatures in the conferences and congresses. He received a vote of no confidence, but the majority came out, mainly because the whole organization is but a sham. Engels had especially a deep rejection against the person of the party chairman Hyndman, which he shared with Karl Marx, who was, however, died in 1883.

After the split of 1884, violent confrontations founded a spin-off of Hyndman 's opponents called Socialist League, but a much shorter life than had the SDF.


The character of the SDF became increasingly sectarian. On the part of the unions, she was often kept to estimate economic arguments low and too much to put on a parliamentary way. Politicians of the SDF attacked representatives of the trade unions, who rarely shared socialist ideas, often sharp. Nevertheless, the SDF went to on other left-wing and trade union organizations in the UK prior to the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee. Together with the Independent Labour Party, whose character was more of an open collection of motion; with the Fabian Society, an association of left reformist intellectuals and the traditional in the UK strong unions came the SDF on 27 February 1900 at the founding conference of the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party, in London's Memorial Hall together and formed the first of the Liberals independent platform for the parliamentary politics of representatives of the workers' movement.

Under the leadership Hyndman put the SDF their sectarian trend even in the LRC. The historian Ralph Miliband said that the Fabians, the ILP and the trade unionists dealing with the liberals, of which we also formally distanced itself with the establishment of the LRC, easily remembered than the SDF. The SDF had already called on the founding conference of an explicit socialist characteristics of the LRC. In a resolution it was to align the organization: [ ... ] a party organization separate from the capitalist parties based upon a regognition of the class war, and having for its ultimate object the socialization of the Means of Production, distribution, and exchange. Such demands met especially in the unions with strong resistance, while the socialist ILP also against too sharp confessions warned in terms of a broad alliance to socialism. After more years of ideological clashes between the majority in the alliance and the SDF, the party left the organization changed its name now already under the name Labour Party in 1907.

Resolution and successor parties

In 1911, the SDF eventually went on to a new party called the British Socialist Party. This association was founded by socialists and trade unionists, who were dissatisfied with the work of enacting still very few lower house seats Labour Party. The BSP finally broke 1914 on the war question. Hyndman, who represented a nationalist and kriegsbejahenden course, then founded the National Socialist Party. From 1919 to 1939 there was again a SDF after the National Socialist Party had dissolved, but was meaningless.

Known members



  • Graham Johnson: Social Democratic Politics in Britain, 1881-1911. Lewiston 2002
  • Ralph Miliband: Parliamentary Socialism. A Study of the Politics of Labour. London, 1972 ( 2nd edition)