Harkive: ‘A Reflection’ – letter to Justice

This month we continue our series of examples of Margaret Harkness’s periodical publications during her active engagement with socialist politics in Britain in the late 1880s and early 1890s. These excerpts, ranging from letters to the editor to snippets of social investigation, respond both to current events and to representations of herself, her beliefs, and her work in the press, and therefore offer a unique insight into Harkness’s ideological development and self-representation.

The first series of publications is taken from Justice, the organ of the Social Democratic Federation with which, as Deborah Mutch and Terry Elkiss state in their chronology of Harkness (Mutch, ed., A City Girl (2015), pp. 31), Harkness was personally affiliated roughly between 1885 and 1887. Perhaps for this reason, many of her contributions to this periodical, both her letters to the editor and her articles, are signed with her own name, rather than the pseudonym John Law which she had begun to use to sign most of her publications following the appearance of A City Girl in 1887.

This month’s contributions reflect Harkness’s complex personal relationship with the British socialist community, and the Social Democratic Federation and its organ Justice in particular.

We start in 1889 with a conciliatory letter from Harkness personally, but commenting on her public authorial and political practice. An apology for allowing a chapter critical of socialist political groups to be published in the book version of her serial story Captain Lobe, which had appeared in the British Weekly in 1888, the letter gives an intriguing insight into the conflict between Harkness’s ideological and personal engagement with socialist politics at the end of the 1880s. One interesting detail is the fact that the letter was sent from Manchester, where she was probably conducting research for her novel A Manchester Shirtmaker, published in 1890.

Our final snippet from Justice in this series is an 1891 contribution – unsigned but possibly by H. M. Hyndman – identifying Harkness as a member of the ‘Marxist Clique’ around Friedrich Engels and Eleanor Marx. Other sources suggest Harkness broke with Engels in 1888 (see for instance Eduard Bernstein, Aus Den Jahren Meines Exils), although she continued to work with many of the other activists listed.

Source: Justice, 20 April 1889, p. 3. Microfilm held at the British Library.

A Reflection

To the Editor of Justice

Sir,—A little story of mine, called “Captain Lobe”, published last week, contained a chapter entitled “Among the Socialists”. I hope you will find space to insert this letter on the subject, because I believe the only thing that succeeds in this world is to be absolutely straightforward, perfectly frank.

I have already had applications from Russia and Sweden, from people who desire to translate this book; and Frau [Regina Zadek] Bernstein, wife of the editor of the “Sozial-Democrat” [Eduard Bernstein], has written to me asking if she may translate it into German. These people only care for the book because it purposes to show the real condition of the very poor in London, they do not think of anything else. And they are right, for it has no other pretence. But I am sorry to think it gives an untrue account of London Socialists.

Last Sunday morning I heard Mrs [Annie] Besant speaking in Manchester on Socialism. She gave a splendid lecture; and I realised as I had never done before, how rapidly things are moving in a Socialistic direction in London, how right Karl Marx was when he asserted that Socialism would begin in England. Mr. [David George?] Ritchie is our greatest Socialist. We have John Burns on the County Council, Mrs. Besant on the School Board, and Mr. Cunningham-Graham in the House of Commons, all conscious Socialists; and the unconscious Conservatives to pave the way for us, to say nothing of Mr. [Henry] Broadhurst, who is our latest convert.

I will frankly own that “Among the Socialists’ was written one night when I had suffered a good deal from Socialists. We are not a happy family, and sometimes our quarrels make it difficult for us to “sacrifice without cursing,” as Mazzini puts it. To find oneself without a relation or a friend, because one is by conviction a Socialist, and then to have vials of wrath poured on one’s head, by Socialists, makes one inclined to curse; and afterwards one prays that the curse may do no mischief. I tried to get that chapter back, but I was too late, it had gone to press, and it is published. It is not true, and I am sorry for it.

Yours fraternally,

John Law

4, St. Anne’s Square, Manchester

Source: Justice, 28 February 1891, p. 1. Microfilm held at the British Library.


In the last number of JUSTICE we made some remarks about Friedrich Engels, joint author with Marx of the “Communist Manifesto” of 1848, and author on his own account of “Die Lage der Arbeitenden Klasse in England,” 1845, the “Umwälzung des Wissenschaft,” 1878, and other works. Engels has been resident in England for nearly fifty years, and, since the foundation of the “International” in 1864, his personal influence has been more baneful than his literary work has been useful to the Socialist movement. He has been the head of the Marxist clique—far more Marxist than Marx himself—which has never ceased to intrigue against and vilify any Social-Democratic organisation which is not under its direct control. The same unscrupulous and at times almost criminal tactics have been pursued in France, in Belgium, in Holland, in Spain, in Denmark, in Austria, in America and in Great Britain. What was done by this clique in relation to the International Congress of 1889 in Paris will be fresh in the memory of our readers. It may be necessary, though we hope it will not, to give a full account of the proceedings of Engels and the Marxists in all countries before the International Congress meets at Brussels. Meantime it may explain a good deal to our readers if we give a list of the prominent members of the little Marxist clique and mutual admiration society in London. They are or were: Friedrich Engels, H. H. Champion, Edward Aveling, Eleanor Marx, Maltman Barry, John Burns, Tom Mann, Keir Hardie, W. Parnell, Margaret Harkness (“John Law”); with them has been closely associated, though happily he is opposed to their methods in some particulars, Cunninghame Graham.


One comment on “Harkive: ‘A Reflection’ – letter to Justice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s