Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hyndman's Utopia

Towards the end of Chushichi Tsuzuki’s H.M. Hyndman and British Socialism (1961) you come across this exciting sentence: ‘Two notable pieces of writing by Hyndman were published posthumously … One of these was a pamphlet called Introduction to ‘The Life to Come’.  Hyndman had planned to write a utopia in the vein of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward or Morris’s News from Nowhere, and this was to be called The Life to Come: only a prefatory section, however, was completed before his death’. 

So you then dutifully chase up that pamphlet, which was published by the Hyndman Literary Committee in 1926, only to feel some disappointment.  Of its thirty-odd pages, the first half surveys the history of utopian thought from Plato to Marx and Engels, while the second half enunciates the general principles of a socialist utopia as Hyndman sees it without, however, getting down to the task of giving them fictional embodiment – which is precisely, of course, when worthy political platitudes start to get interesting.

And yet Hyndman did have a very genuine interest in literary utopia, it appears.  In the pamphlet he mentions a lecture called ‘The First Monday Morning under Socialism’ which he used to deliver ‘frequently’ in the early 1880s: ‘I endeavoured to show how a visitor to a Socialist community established long years after he had joined the majority would be received, and what he would see going on around him’.  It would be interesting to know if William Morris ever sat through that lecture in the early days of the Democratic Federation.

Hyndman’s wife Rosalind suggests that a much fuller version of his utopia did actually exist: ‘As I read it at Lelant it was a series of visions of a glorious London, and a happy and blooming England, under the future Co-operative Comonwealth of Social-Democracy.  It left upon the reader’s mind an impression of unbroken sunshine’.  Perhaps this utopia was too sunny indeed, for she also mentions a joint writing scheme whereby she would ‘put in all the shadows’ she thought necessary.  But death intervened and this never happened.

Does that fuller version of Hyndman’s utopia The Life to Come still exist anywhere – fictionally embodied rather than just generally sketched out, as in the pamphlet?  What a startling literary-political find that would be, if the dusty manuscript should ever turn up in some attic or basement somewhere.

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