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G. D. H. Cole's Historical Writings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

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The swelling flood of historical materials in the twentieth century has created unprecedented problems of assimilation for the historian. Both specialized researchers and those simply trying to keep abreast of what has been published find themselves in ever greater need of abstracts, comprehensive surveys, and bibliographies. That portion of the literature not outfitted with such buoys seems destined to sink beneath the inundation of new materials, to pass out of the general view into murky, seldom-explored depths where it will lie unused, perhaps soon to be altogether forgotten, whatever its intrinsic value. The voluminous writings of the British historian G. D. H. Cole, as yet unprovided with the kind of aids in question, fall into this unfortunate category. This bibliographical list and commentary has been prepared in the hope of helping remove them from it.

Research Article
Copyright © Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1966


page 169 note 1 For the only assessment exclusively devoted to Cole or his work thusfar extant, see Heffer, E. S., „G. D. H. Cole – An Appraisal of His Life and Work”, in: Socialist Review (mid-Feb. 1959)Google Scholar. For other materials on his life and writings, see Nos. 71–91 in the biblio graphical list at the end of the article. (All such numerical references given hereafter refer to that list.)

page 169 note 2 The Coles had three children in all, the two girls and a boy born in 1928. Mrs. Cole, a graduate of Girton, Cambridge, and a considerable intellectual force in her own right, cut out a career for herself that often overlapped her husband's. They wrote novels to gether, collaborated on editing, studied much the same ground, and participated in many of the same Leftist activities. She denies, however, that they were, as one reviewer had proclaimed, „another Mr. and Mrs. Webb”. Cole, Margaret I., Growing Up Into Revolution [hereafter cited as GIR], London: Longmans Green, 1949, p. 77, and passim.Google Scholar

page 170 note 1 Cole was instrumental in reviving the flagging Socialist propaganda effort in Britain through the founding of the New Fabian Research Bureau (c. 1930–32).

page 170 2 On this division of time, reckoned from the quantitative topical distribution of his writings, see p. 171, n. 1.

page 170 note 3 For the purview of the chair, see Cole's inaugural address on assuming it, „Scope and Method in Social and Political Theory”, in: Essays in Social Theory [hereafter cited as EST]: London: Macmillan, 1950.Google Scholar

page 170 note 4 Worswick, G. D. N., „Cole and Oxford, 1938–1958”, in: Essays in Labour History, In Memory of G. D. H. Cole, 25 September 1889 –14 January 1959 [hereafter cited as ELH], eds. Briggs, Asa and Saville, John, London: Macmillan, 1960, pp. 3942, passim.Google Scholar

page 170 note 5 Cole, G. D. H., „What I Take for Granted”, in: EST, pp. 245–51, passim.Google Scholar

page 170 note 6 GIR, pp. 7879.Google Scholar

page 170 note 7 Gaitskell, Hugh, „At Oxford in the Twenties”, in: ELH, p. 13.Google Scholar

page 170 note 8 GIR, p. 79.Google Scholar

page 170 note 9 Gaitskell, , pp. 713, passim.Google Scholar

page 170 note 10 GIR, p. 77.Google Scholar

page 170 note 11 Ibid., p. 78.

page 170 note 12 The basic general list of Cole's works used was compiled from: British Museum Catalogue; Library of Congress Catalogue; American Historical Association's Guide; Lancaster's Bibliography of… Works in the U.K.; Milne's Writings on British History; the Historical Association's Bulletin of Historical Publications; the International Bibliographies] of: Historical Sciences, Economics, Political Sciences, and Sociology; Bibliography of European History, 1815–1939; Foreign Affairs Bibliography; Bestermann's World Bibliography of Bibliographies; International Index; Historical Abstracts; lists in the Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History (1960ff.); and Nos. 82–91 in the list appended to this article.

page 171 note 1 Over a fifty-year career, Cole wrote about 2 vols./yr. on the average. His total output was topically distributed as follows: history -32 titles (book-length studies only) and over 100 articles and pamphlets, plus editing, introductions, translations, etc. (c. 10,000 pp.); political pamphlets – 35 titles (c. 1200 pp.); detective novels (in collaboration with his wife) — 30 titles (c. 9000 pp.); economic studies – 10 titles, plus editing and articles (c.3400 pp.); and contemporary commentaries (on many subjects) – 40 titles and over 100 articles and pamphlets (c. 10,000 pp.). He and his wife also edited belles-lettres – 8 titles and a series.

page 171 note 2 Naturally, it was impossible to even lay hands on, let alone read, everything Cole wrote, so the selection of titles for the appended bibliography often was based on an evaluation of the title itself. The general rule followed was to exclude everything that seemed strictly economic, propagandistic, literary, or contemporary in character or orientation, and to include everything else. Of books, it seems unlikely that any important ones have been omitted; of articles, perhaps a few, but probably not many, thanks to Cole's habit of republishing them in readily available collections.

A series of present-oriented, data-stuffed handbooks that have many of the earmarks of socio-economic histories are among the works not considered here, viz.: Cole, G. D. H., The Intelligent Man's Guide Through World Chaos, London: Gollancz, 1932Google Scholar; The Intelligent Man's Guide to the Post-War World, London: Gollancz, 1947Google Scholar; The Post-War Condition of Britain, New York: Praeger, 1957Google Scholar; Cole, G. D. H. and Cole, M. I., A Guide to Modern Politics, New York: Knopf, 1934Google Scholar; The Intelligent Man's Review of Europe Today, New York: Knopf, 1934Google Scholar; and The Condition of Britain, London: Gollancz, 1937.Google Scholar

page 171 note 3 Exclusive of the texts of the four works Cole edited, this amounts to 4800 of the total 10,000 pages of history he wrote, or roughly half.

Titles listed but not discussed include: bibliographies – Nos. 1–3; works edited, translated, etc.-Nos. 6–14, 17–19; biographies-Nos. 22–28; histories – Nos. 30–31, 35,40–41, 43–61; and collections of essays, etc. – Nos. 65, 66, 68.

page 171 note 4 For full citations of all four editions' titles, and all further titles referred to in the text, see the referenced number in the appended list, in the case of the four editions Nos. 4, 5, 15, and 16.

page 172 note 1 Cobbett's newspaper and the leading Radical organ in pre-Reform Britain.

page 172 note 2 See No. 21.

page 172 note 3 Life of Cobbett, William, p. 11.Google Scholar

page 172 note 4 Ibid., p. 434.

page 172 note 5 See No. 20.

page 172 note 6 In view of his favorable initial treatment of Cobbett and his own personal outlook (for which, see above, p. 170).

page 173 note 1 Life of Owen, Robert (1930 ed.), p. 35.Google Scholar

page 173 note 2 See No. 42.

page 173 note 3 Short History (1952 ed.), p. v. Whether by accident or design, Cole devoted a great deal of his later historical writing to works which fall within the rough compass of such a scheme. It is the author's opinion that it was by design, that his writings after 1927 form a logically contrived and executed unity whose outlines were first set down in the Short History. Doubtless, however, such an estimate cannot be called anything but highly tentative until much more study of Cole's work has been done.

page 174 note 1 See No. 63.

page 174 note 2 See No. 69.

page 174 note 3 During this same decade, Cole contributed numerous short articles to the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For a list of the articles, see Nos. 65a-65j and 66a-66r.

page 174 note 4 For a list of the articles, see Nos. 69a-69n.

page 174 note 5 See No. 62.

page 174 note 6 See No. 32.

page 175 note 1 See Nos. 41 and 45.

page 175 note 2 See Webb, Beatrice and Webb, Sidney, History of Trade Unionism (1894)Google Scholar, and Industrial Democracy (1897).

page 175 note 3 See No. 29.

page 175 note 4 Those by the Webbs and the Hammonds in particular. Attempts at General Union, pp. 1–3.

page 175 note 5 See No. 64.

page 175 note 6 For a list of the articles, see Nos. 64a–64m.

page 176 note 1 See No. 33.

page 176 note 2 On pre-1832 non-union political antecedents, see Cole, G. D. H., „A Study in Legal Repression (1789–1834)”, in: Persons and Periods, pp. 120–42Google Scholar. See No. 691.

page 176 note 3 See No. 34. The book was written at the request of the Co-operative Union as part of a centennial tribute to the Rochdale Pioneers, but Cole's enthusiasm makes it evident that he took very little persuading. A Century of Co-operation, p. v, and passim.

page 176 note 4 Co-operative turnover seems to have amounted to c. 5% of Britain's GNP in the late 1930's. See ibid., pp. 377–78.

page 177 note 1 See No. 36.

page 177 note 2 The new version was titled The Meaning of Marxism.

page 177 note 3 See No. 67.

page 177 note 4 Cole also contributed two articles to the Dictionary of National Biography supplement about this time. See Nos. 68a–68b.

page 177 note 5 See Nos. 67a–67b.

page 177 note 6 Two more revisions appeared in 1953, namely: Attempts at General Union and An Introduction to Trade Unionism (formerly titled British Trade Unionism To-day). 7 See No. 38.

page 178 note 1 A decided contrast to Cole's earlier views on the Industrial Revolution (for which see The Life of William Cobbett and The Life of Robert Owen, both passim), this analysis compares favorably in its less speculative aspects with other recent opinion based on similar study of the British example, e.g., one of the most recent statistical evaluations: Dean, Phyllis and Cole, W. A., British Economic Growth, 1688–1959: Trends and Structure [Department of Applied Economics Monographs, No. 8], Cambridge: The University Press, 1962.Google Scholar

page 178 note 2 See No. 70.

page 178 note 3 For a list of the articles, see Nos. 70a 70f.

page 179 note 1 See No. 37.

page 180 note 1 He himself, however, specifically denies this to have been his intent. HST, I, pp. vvi.Google Scholar

page 180 note 2 The only remotely comparable study, one Cole himself often cites, is: Édouard Doll´eans, Histoire du mouvement ouvrier, 3 vols., Paris: A. Colin, 1936–53.

page 180 note 3 And written almost as if intended as such a reference work, with every one of the 112 chapters a discreet essay, the whole copiously indexed. The bibliography in the first four volumes is also impressive, perhaps the finest single such list on Socialism available in English. (Cole died before compiling a list for Vol. V, with the exception of the single chapter on China, for which see HST, V, p. 291).Google Scholar

page 180 note 4 In this, he was as independent of mind as ever, professing: „I am neither a Communist nor a Social Democrat, because I regard both as creeds of centralization and bureaucracy, whereas I feel sure that a Socialist society that is to be true to its equalitarian principles of human brotherhood must rest on the widest possible diffusion of power and responsi bility, so as to enlist the active participation of as many as possible of its citizens in the tasks of democratic self-government.” HST, V, p. 337.Google Scholar

page 180 note 5 „Scope and Method”, pp. 7, 10.Google Scholar

page 181 note 1 This is a central theme of Cole's entire critique of Marxism, summed up in The Meaning of Marxism.

page 181 note 2 Worswick, , p. 38Google Scholar; and „What I Take for Granted”, passim.

page 181 note 3 Ibid.

page 181 note 4 Bailey, Stephen K., „What Cole Really Meant”, in ELH, p. 22Google Scholar; and „Scope and Method”, pp. 116, passim.Google Scholar

page 181 note 5 Two avowed cases in point: British Working Class Politics was intended to issue the call for a new generation of Socialist propagandists (ibid., p. 254); and A History of Socialist Thought was meant to urge a reconstruction of International Socialism on fresh principles of allegiance to break the impasse into which it had fallen (Braunthal, Julius, ”Introduction”, HST, V, p. xiiiGoogle Scholar; and Cole, , HST, IV, p. 850Google Scholar; V, p. 337).

page 181 note 6 ”Scope and Method”, pp. 612, passimGoogle Scholar; Cole, G. D. H., „The Question of Bias”, in the essay „The Teaching of Social Studies in British Universities”, in EST, pp. 4546Google Scholar; and „What I Take for Granted”, pp. 245–46.Google Scholar

Toward the end of his life, however, Cole abandoned this claim by admitting that he could not „be impartial, or even objective, in reviewing the history of Socialism” (HST, IV, p. 850)Google Scholar because in the exceptional case of „disputes that are very much alive … [the historian] can hardly hope to be given the credit for stating fairly both or all sides of the question he needs to discuss.” (Ibid., p. 849) Having thus foresworn any hope of actively achieving objectivity (perhaps of achieving it by any means), Cole nonetheless neither eschewed Socialism nor the writing of history on its behalf, although the direct relationship between the two endeavors he so insisted on in earlier years had almost certainly been much weakened by his disillusionment with the entire extant Socialist order (for an expression of which, see his two articles on „The Future of Socialism”, in: New Statesman, XLIX [15 Jan. 1955], pp. 6062Google Scholar; and idem [22 Jan. 1955], pp. 92–93). In any case, he continued to write history and apparently found sufficient justification for doing so in the time-honored pleas of armchair neutrality and detachment he uttered to replace his abandoned former claims about objectivity.

page 181 note 7 The scope and number of his works alone precludes the possibility, even making due allowance for his „gift for tearing the heart out of documents and statistics”. GIR, p. 78.Google Scholar

page 182 note 1 Cole, G. D. H., „Sociology and Politics in the Twentieth Century”, in: EST, p. 29.Google Scholar

page 182 note 2 E.g., his theories of class and the Industrial Revolution, and his account of the rise and fall of an entire major ideology in Socialism.

page 182 note 3 ”Scope and Method”, p. 16Google Scholar. For a similarly posited atack on Marx for attributing to classes traits Cole claimed only individuals could possess, see: „Introductory”, in Studies in Class Structure, pp. 1112.Google Scholar

page 182 note 4 Although Cole seldom failed to consult the appropriate primary sources (see the prefaces of his various works), he evidently relied primarily on printed materials which he could use in his own study. See, e.g., his random comments on his research habits in: A Century of Co-operation, p. v; A History of the Labour Party, p. iv; Worswick, , p. 27Google Scholar; and again the prefaces of his various other works.

page 182 note 5 In regard to his linguistic prowess in researching A History of Socialist Thought, Cole confessed: „I have no Russian, almost no Spanish, very little Italian, and not much Ger man” and went on to explain that he used secondary sources in translation whenever he could. HST, I, p. vi.Google Scholar

page 182 note 6 E.g., in A History of the Labour Party, he speaks of the hurried post-World War I demobilization – an event of considerable importance in British working class history – as a Government conspiracy against the Left (p. 90), which directly contradicts the con census of then-available scholarship (in 1948). As a recent bibliographical essay puts it: ”Both Albert Lauterback [in a 1942 article] and R. H. Tawney [in a 1943 article] have assessed the experience of economic demobilization after World War I and both have concluded that the government erred in yielding to the demand for a rapid and impossible return to prewar conditions. Their findings are confirmed by Stephen Graubard's study of military demobilization [in a 1947 article], which documents the enormous pressure built up against a cautious government plan designed to prevent unemployment.” Winkler, Henry R., Great Britain in the Twentieth Century [Service Center for Teachers Pam phlets, No. 28], Washington: American Historical Association, 1960, p. 27.Google Scholar

page 183 note 1 The resumé that follows is based on a survey of over 50 reviews in the leading scholarly journals (at least three having been examined for every work commented on) and on the glosses in the Book Review Digest.

page 184 note 1 For works of more than one edition, I have tried to cite the first English edition, noting the rest; with revisions, to cite the latest English edition, noting the rest.

Since many of Cole's articles are conveniently gathered in collections and reference works, I have ordered them below en bloc under these titles as I found them, citing the latest version of reprints, with a note on the place of initial publication, separately listing by topic only never-reprinted items from the periodical press. When page numbers are not given, they were not known.

Titles discussed in the text above are marked with an asteriks*.

page 187 note 1 The numbers given under the topic heading refer alphabetically to biographical articles listed further on as part of collections, etc.

Cole, and his wife, in the extensive „Index to Persons” in Cobbett's Rural Rides [No. 15 above], pp. 9391052Google Scholar, prepared additional historical biographies of well over 500 persons prominent in early nineteenth century Britain. The earlier volumes of A History of Socialist Thought [No. 37 below] similarly contain a great many short biographies of prominent pre-World War I Socialists. And, at his death, Cole left five volumes in manuscript tentatively titled „A Dictionary of Labour Biography, 1790 – the Present”, said to contain several thousand short sketches. Now being reworked and expanded by John Saville, a first volume is promised by 1966–67. See Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, No. 1 (Aut. 1960), p. 27Google Scholar; No. 2 (Apr. 1961), pp. 15–17; and No. 8 (Spr. 1964), pp. 10–11.

page 189 note 1 The numbers given under the topic heading refer alphabetically to historical articles listed further on as part of collections, etc.

page 190 note 1 The numbers given under the topic heading refer alphabetically to interpretive articles listed further on as part of collections, etc.

page 192 note 1 In the list of articles below, Nos. 67a-67j form one alphabetical group focused on ideology and Nos. 67k-67P another focused on methodology. This division was used to conform to the discussion in the text.