IT was in the 1880's that 'respectable' people in Britain woke up to the profoundly shocking fact that the revolutionary creed of Socialism, which until this time had been largely confined to the Continent, was making converts in their very midst. In 1881 an organization called the Democratic Federation had been founded, and in 1884 this body had assumed the name of the Social-Democratic Federation and had begun to advocate Marxist principles on the pattern of the French and German Socialist Parties. Worse still, its leaders were able to take advantage of the depression in trade in the middle of the decade, and to place themselves at the head of agitation in London and other cities which provoked rioting and other disorders including the looting of shops.
It was almost equally shocking that the outstanding leader of the Social-Democratic Federation both in this period and through most of its later existence, was not an unlettered proletarian, who might have been expected to bear a grudge against the existing social system, but a man who had been born, as the saying goes, 'with a silver spoon in his mouth' --the son of a wealthy father, related to the aristocracy and equipped with the social advantages of an education at Trinity College, Cambridge. This was no 'angry young man' sowing his political wild oats, but a man of mature years, already in his forties, well-travelled, yet also established in London society. His name was Henry Mayers Hyndman.