The entertainment profiteers encouraged a “fai?? ade of classlessness” which would “undermine working class solidarity” 3. This was not good for socialism; for a socialist state to emerge, the workers themselves need to take control. Socialism rests on the premise that the proletariat should be aware and proud of their background, and certainly not aspire to join the middle classes, the ones who are expected to be overthrown. It’s interesting that the recommended alternatives to commercial entertainment, put foreword by socialists in the late 19th century, were often related to the natural countryside.
For example, the “Clarion” (The weekly socialist paper founded in 1891 by Robert and Montague Blatchford and influenced by the ideas of William Morris) soon became a movement with its own hiking, climbing and cycling clubs. This leisurely, back to nature approach was intended to promote a healthy life and portray its followers as energetic campaigners, who could turn their backs on the urban squalor. According to David Prynn, such groups “expressed a revulsion against the ugliness and anonymity of urbanised, industrial society, and a deep reverence for nature”4.
Nowhere were the negative effects of capitalism more visible than in the industrial towns and Engels describes this in detail in “The Condition Of The Working Class In England”. British socialists were likely to have been influenced by this key Marxist text. However, despite the popularity of the Clarion clubs, the easy availability and convenience of commercial entertainment must have played a part in preventing more from joining. Why would somebody, after a hard week’s work, want to travel out of the town when the pub, theatre or football ground was just round the corner?
And the energetic nature of socialist pastimes (such as choir singing, cycling, hiking) did not really lend itself to the physically demanding shifts in the factories, mines and mills. Music Music hall entertainment was another realm of commercial recreation considered by socialist thinking as unhealthy passive entertainment. The gulf between performer on the stage and paying spectator in the audience discouraged the working class from making their own music. To socialists, “the commercial revolution had eradicated a viable popular musical culture”5. Music halls were seen as a threat to local performers and travelling showmen.
Music played an important part in socialist circles, as it was recognised as arguably the most popular form of entertainment. Alternatives to Music hall shows were group choirs (For example, the nationwide Clarion Vocal Union) and sing-along political compositions, which not only emphasised community spirit by encouraging participation, but also were seen as essential for propaganda value, the lyrics instilling in people the ideas of the socialist cause. Music hall attendance, and the nature of the entertainment there, was therefore viewed as counter-productive to the cause.
The music hall acts themselves would tend to reaffirm bourgeoisie values by reflecting everyday life and the songs could hardly be considered as inflammatory. According to John Kenrick: “With women and children in the audience, the material was never more than mildly risqui??. The songs were mostly sentimental and/or comic takes on everyday life, as well as spoofs of the rich and famous. “6 Furthermore, the diversity and variation of music hall acts was not good for creating a “common musical heritage”7, which was seen as important in cementing working-class unity.
Folk songs were added to the socialist repertoire, considered to be timeless songs of the people. Conclusion The rising popularity of British socialism and its accompanying clubs and associations demonstrates that the working classes were not entirely diverted away from socialism, as this essay question suggests. Socialism (which, after all, was a new idealism in the late 19th century, and was born in the midst of the fastest growing industrial nation in the world and found itself having to compete with that nations capitalist values) never went away and continued to grow in strength through the next century.
However, forces existed, of which commercial entertainment was one, which prevented socialism from being as popular as it might have been. As sport and leisure became new fields of investment for entrepreneurs, capitalism became an even bigger part of life for the masses. The money they made from wages was put back into the system via paid-for entertainment. The other reasons that Socialists were unable to win over more of the masses could be linked to the types of leisure activities they put foreword.
These activities were physically demanding, as I have already explained, but also they were arguably the type of leisure enjoyed by the middle classes. The unintended result of this was that movements like Blatchford’s tended to attract more middle class socialists, and had less appeal to the working classes. Socialists advocated leisure time spent in the countryside; but to travel out of the city every weekend could also have been regarded as the privilege of the middle class. Perhaps socialists needed to start their campaigns from within the towns where the workers lived, not from outside them.
Word count = 1560 Bibliography Waters, C: “British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture” Manchester University press, 1990 Prynn, D: “The Clarion Clubs, Rambling and the Holiday Associations in Britain since the 1890’s” Journal of Contemporary History 11,1976 Benson, J: “The Working Class in England 1875 – 1914” Croom Helm, 1985 Marx and Engels : “The Manifesto of the Communist Party” Progress, 1952 Engels, F : “The Condition Of The Working Class In England” Oxford University Press, 1993 John Kenrick: “The British Music Hall” http://www. musicals101. com/musichall. htm
James Sotheran SOCHI2036 IN WHAT WAYS DID POPULAR CULTURE AND PEOPLE’S PASTIMES DIVERT THE WORKING CLASS AWAY FROM SOCIALISM? Module Leader: Ray Physick 1 Waters, C: “British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture” Manchester University press, 1990, (P. 23) 2 Same as “1” (P. 44-50) 3 Same as “1” (P. 40) 4 Prynn, D: “The Clarion Clubs, Rambling and the Holiday Associations in Britain since the 1890’s Journal of Contemporary History 11,1976 (P. 65) 5 Same as “1” (P. 103) 6 John Kenrick: “The British Music Hall” http://www. musicals101. com/musichall. htm 7 Same as “1” (P. 105).