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22Mar2017

ADHERENCE AND AMBIVALENCE

One of the cases I examine in Other People’s Struggles, my research project on the participation of outsiders in social movements – or ‘adherents’ as I term them –  concerns Victorian socialists and their disagreements over how far a middle or upper-class socialist needed to alter they way he or she lived in order to be a good socialist. This is a dimension of early British socialism that, so far as I am aware, no one has systematically examined. My cases included Edward Carpenter, William Morris, the Webbs, Belfort Bax and Bernard Shaw. I thought of including oscar wilde, author of The Soul of Man under Socialism, but in the end I thought his position was too idiosyncratic, and not really ‘serious’ or committed enough to qualify. So I left him out.

However, since finishing the case study, and moving on to consider how the problems of ‘outsider’ involvement have been addressed more recently, I have thought again about Wilde. His refusal to take the various ways out of the dilemma that other Victorian socialists took now seems to me a much more interesting, and more contemporary, response. So I’ve written something about it here, which serves as one useful conclusion to the research project, not least because it reinforces one of my main findings: that the dilemmas of adherence change, but also remain the same.