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Feminism in United Kingdom

British Political and Social Thought: Socialism and Feminism

Introduction to Feminism

The revolutionary socialist ideology of German political philosopher Karl Marx had very little influence in Britain, even though Marx spent much of his adult life in London. Much more important in shaping English socialism were the writings and political skills of the Fabian Society, a group of intellectuals founded in 1884 that included playwright George Bernard Shaw and future prime minister James Ramsay MacDonald. The group took its name from Fabius, a Roman general who seldom attacked his enemy directly, preferring to wear the enemy down with delaying tactics. The Fabians rejected the Marxist revolutionary model and believed socialism would come to Britain through a natural and peaceful evolutionary process and also through democratic parliamentary politics. This social democratic approach assumed that over time Parliament would pass laws in the interests of the workers, aided by the development of a workers’ party, the Labour Party. The Fabians also believed that the tendency already apparent in 19th-century factory legislation would expand and culminate in the state owning and operating industrial enterprises and thus presiding over a just and efficient planned economy.

Along with this nonrevolutionary democratic socialist vision, the origins of feminist political thought are evident in British political thought. As early as the late 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) asserted that women deserved the same rights as men. In the work, Wollstonecraft wrote that women are the rational equals to men but have been brought up to be dependent on men and to be concerned only with domestic life and caring for children. She believed that these characteristics were not expressions of an essential feminine nature but were instead cultural inventions that men created to serve their own interests. Given equal schooling, Wollstonecraft argued, women would compete as equals with men in the arena of public achievement. In 1869 Mill echoed Wollstonecraft’s early feminist thought in his essay The Subjection of Women. Mill championed women’s equality in several books and sought legislation to give women the right to vote. Women in Britain and the United States did not gain the right to vote until the 20th century, however. Still, the origins of the feminist crusade are evident in British political thought as early as the 18th century.” (1)


Notes and References

  • Information about Feminism in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  • Guide to Feminism

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    Schema Summary

    • Article Name: Feminism
    • Author: Danny W.
    • Description: British Political and Social Thought: Socialism and Feminism Introduction to Feminism The revolutionary socialist ideology [...]

    This entry was last updated: August 24, 2014


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