Socialist Realism was an art movement that emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s . It was greatly influenced by Stalinism , the bureaucratic caste which under the influence of Imperialism had developed a very reactionary and conservative role in the first Workers State. Under extreme adverse conditions the Soviet Union had to fight a series of Civil Wars against Imperialist encirclement and the consequence was that the best cadre of the Bolshevik Party were killed and a layer of petit bourgeois middle class elements were recruited into the Party. Many of them were ex mensheviks and counter revolutionaries but were trusted and given responsibilities by Stalin.

Socialist realism reflected the cultural backwardness of this caste, who believed that Modernist art , particularly abstraction and expressionism were to be destroyed and cast out. The only useful art was figurative art , glorifying Heroic tasks by workers , or showing examples of Stalin and collective farms. To go back to figurative art in this period was reactionary and backward.



The origin of Socialist Realism lay in the early 1920’s when some artists like Mayakovsky , Malevich and others had become involved in the Prolecult movement , which advocated only proletarian art and rejected  the mention of Bourgeois art . Lenin and Trotsky were opposed to this development of Proletarian culture as a dangerous development on the road to dogmatism.

“Marxism has won a historic significance as the ideology of the Revolutionary proletariat because far from reflecting the most valuable achievements of the Bourgeoise epoch it has on the contrary assimiliated  and refashioned everything of value in more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture” [1].

Lenin further went on to say “Achieving unswervingly to this stand of principle the all Russia Proletariat congress rejects in the most resolute manner as theoretically unsound and practically harmful all attempts to invent ones own  particular brand of culture, to remain isolated itself contained organisation to draw a line dividing the field of work of the peoples commissariat for Education and the Prolecult or to set up a Prolecult autonomy “. [2].



Trotsky , Breton and Riveria wrote a statement denouncing Socialist Realist art on the eve of the formation of the Fourth International in 1938. “Towards a free Revolutionary Art 1936″ . ” True art which is not content to play variations on ready made models but rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and of mankind in its time True art is unable not to be revolutionary not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society. We reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet union , its precisely because in our eyes it represents not Communism but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy. A twilight of filth and blood in which disguised as intellectuals and artists those men stoop to make a career of Lying . the Communist Revolution is not afraid of art it realises that the role of an artist in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the individual and various social forms which are hostile to him”.  [3]. Trotsky , Breton and Riveria went on to say “We believe that aesthethic , philosophical and political tendencies of the most varied sort can find here a common ground. Marxists can march hand in hand with anarchists provided both parties uncompromisingly reject the reactionary police , patrol spies represented by Joseph Stalin”.[4].



What Stalinism forgot to recognise was imagination and emotions which could only be expressed through abstraction and expressionist art as practised by Paul Klee, a Revolutionary artist who taught at the Bahaus , both Klee and Kandinsky were experimenting with abstract forms , this could only be expressed through abstraction. To go backwards to a form of Realism was both reactionary and counter productive.

AK Voronsky , a cultural critic suffered for his beliefs under Stalin. He was sent to the Gulag perished and like many members and signatories in the Left Opposition were denounced suffered the Moscow Trials and were executed under Stalinism. This form of control and terror had nothing to do with Socialism or communism.

Voronsky agreeing with Trotsky made these comments “In order to recognise Society on a new Foundation , it must before anything else master the cultural heritage in Science and other Fields”. [5].

“Comrades Lenin and Trotsky state that the main task in the realm of mass cultural Education lies in the assmiliation of bourgeois culture by the masses”. [6].

Voronsky concluded “In short we have no proletarian art in the sense in which bourgeois art exists. The attempt to present contemporary art of the Writer proletarian and writer communist as proletarian art independent and opposed to bourgeois art is both naïve and based upon a misunderstanding”. [7].


Selling the 'Daily Worker' outside Projectile Engineering Works 1937 by Clive Branson 1907-1944

George Luckacs was another cultural critic who had an ambivalent attitude to Socialist Realism. Luckacs born in Hungary and active in the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 , had written on Realism and had made major contribution when he had criticised  Expressionism  “It goes without saying that without abstraction there could be no art , for otherwise how could anything in art have representative value, but  like every moment abstraction must have a direction and it is on this everything depends”. [8].

Luckacs had contradictory and ambivalent attitudes to socialist realism  was grappling with the representation of realism and its relationship to Modernism and abstraction.

“And the truth about Socialist realism is that its content and form were seriously distorted during the Stalinist Period” [9].

Defending some aspects of Socialist realism Luckacs says”It would be slanderous to assert that during the Stalinist period Socialist democracy or the Socialist basis of economic construction were totally destroyed” . [9].

Lukacs adopting more critical vein says “But during the Stalinist period as we know many crucial Marxist doctrines were misrepresented”‘ [10].

Labour Review has correctly identified the role of Lukacs in his relationship with Stalinism  “Lukacs Has been in trouble with the Stalinist revisers of Marxism for the better part of his life. He has frequently been accused of Hegelian Idealism and of right wing deviationism. He owes his physical survival to his willingness to pay the price of repeated acts of diplomatic self criticism. He has always bent to the prevailing wind returning to his former path as soon as possible afterwards”.  [11].

It is true to say that as I have argued before Socialist realism’s origin lies with the prolecult movement “To a significant extent AKHRR also set the tone for what was eventually to become Socialist realism”. [12].

As one commentator has suggested “Socialist Realism  disguised as literary criticism represents a bureaucratic and administrative conception of literature , notable both for the exceptional vagueness and fuzziness of its notions and for the implacable rigor of its judgements”. [13].

“During those  dark days of Zhadonvism ( Zhadonov was the Cultural censor who was appointed by Stalin, in 1948 Shostakovich together with Prokoview and others were denounced for producing Music that was not pleasing to the Ear, I have commented on Shostakovich and his fight against Stalinism elsewhere on my blog) one of the very few Marxists to speak out against this propagandistic literature trapped in the stifling cage of an official political doctrines is Georg Luckacs “.[14].

“Moreover by the very fact that the cultural bureaucracy created by Stalinism and still faithful to its spirit remains unchallenged. The constraint excercised on writers ,artists and muscians is twofold. Firstly an enormous bureaucratic mechanism made up of study committees and investigatory Committees”.

I have tried in this assessment to show that Socialist realism , influenced by Stalin himself represented all that was backward and reactionary in Russian Society , appealing to the common denominator. Many artists like Voronsky ended up in the Gulag to suffer the fate of the Moscow Trials and eventually Death by Execution. what was their crime to compose music or paint or write a play that Stalin did not like, an extreme state of paranoia developed by a caste which had more in common with Medieval practices than twentieth century life. Not even under capitalist society did these strictures take place , the only other comparison would be Nazi Germany which also developed a Socialist realist culture.


1) Art in theory pg 402

2)  Art in Theory  pg. 402

3)  Art in Theory pg. 532

4)  Art in Theory  pg. 532

5) Art as the cognition of Life by AK Voronsky  pg.148

6) Art as the cognition of Life  by AK Voronsky pg.153

7)  Art as the Cognition of Life  By AK Voronsky pg.160

8)  Aesthethics and politics  By Georg Luckacs  pg.38.

9)  Meaning of contemporary realism  Georg Luckacs pg. 133

10) Meaning of contemporary realism Georg Luckacs  pg.125

11) Labour review Volume no7 No 2 Summer 1962 pg.57

12) Realism Rationalism Surrealism art between the wars  Open University pg.275

13) Marxists Aesthethics  Henri Avron pg.83

14) Marxist Aesthethics    Henri Avron pg.84





th 23

Martin Hoyles    an academic from East London has written a useful account of the Life and experience of William Cuffay a Black Chartist who was active in the Chartist Movement.  He traces Cuffay’s life who was born into slavery, his freedom in Britain and his eventual development inside the Chartist Movement in the 1840’s and his eventual deportation to Australia.

Hoyle’s tells us that William Cuffay’s Grandfather was a slave who originated from the Gold Coast present day Ghana in West Africa and   was transported to the West Indies to work in the sugar plantations.   “Around 12 million people were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves” [1]

Many of the English Middle class campaigned against Slavery including Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) Granville Sharp (1735-1813) and of course William Wilberforce. In 1833 Slavery was abolished. William Cuffay was born in Chatham, His father who managed to obtain his freedom managed to travel to England and William was born in 1788 and became a Tailor. St Kitts where William Cuffay’s Grandfather worked was a hotbed of political agitation by the black slaves to win their freedom and get rid of their oppression. Mary Prince and Olandah Equino are two of the freed slaves who campaigned in Britain addressing meetings to speak of the inequities of Slavery.

Many Black sailors who fought in the Napeolinc Wars organised strikes and industrial action aboard ships. Much of this action took place in Cuffay’s birthplace in Chatham.  “In 1775 there was a strike of Shipwrights which spread to Plymouth and Portsmouth” [2].

The germ of trade Unionism had emerged in Britain with the development of Corresponding Societies, small secret clubs of determined workers where secret oaths were used and armed Militias formed to defend Workers rights and advance their rights to proper conditions and decent wages. After Cuffay’s father died in 1815 Cuffay moved to London and d started work as a Tailor. Hoyle makes reference to the Levellers and the Diggers of the 17th Century. Tailoring was the largest manufacturing trade in the City. The tailors were well organised and went on strike in 1744. Francis Place a noted radical of the time and a master tailor commented “The system of combination of the journeyman tailors is by far the most perfect of many”   [3].

William Cuffay became a leader of many of these trade disputes. “In 1834 Tailors decided to strike, Cuffay stayed out until the bitter end”. [4].

Cuffay was active as a Chartist Leader organising demonstrations. Many black freed slaves living in London were active Chartists and campaigned with others to improve the wages and working conditions of workers and Journeymen in London. In London the London Workingmen’s association was formed with William Lovett as the Secretary. Thomas Hardy was the secretary of the London Corresponding Society. Thomas Paine and Frederick Douglass a Black freed slave were all active in Negro emancipation. Hoyle comments further “Like in 1794 radical artisan cutlers in Sheffield called for the total emancipation of the Negro slaves”.  [5].

!839 signalled the great development of the Chartist Movement. The Chartist general Convention met and in June 1839 the Peoples Charter was presented to Parliament. The chartist movement was a broad movement encompassing all political views .The chartist movement would split between the reformists who believed that it was through Parliament that you could achieve chartist’s demands and the physical force Chartists who argued for the Revolutionary overthrow of Society and Communists demands for a classless Society. Karl Mark and Frederick Engels the founders of Communism paid close attention to these developments. Hoyle mentions Marx in passing as a footnote and doesn’t consider the intervention of Marx and Engels as important factors. Marx was responsible for setting up the First International of working men’s association.  Marx commented “We now come to the Chartists, the politically active portion of the British working class; the six points of the charter which they contend for contain nothing but the demand of Universal suffrage and of the conditions without which Universal Suffrage would be illusory for the Working class. But Universal Suffrage is the equivalent of Political power for the working class of England”. [6].

Some Physical force Chartists like William Frost in Newport armed themselves and set out to organise a planned uprising and overthrow Capitalism. Cuffay supported the uprisings in Wales. “This culminated in 1839 with the Newport Rising on 4th November aiming to release Henry Vincent from Monmouth jail and to rear the standard of rebellion throughout Wales. Several thousand Chartists mostly miners attacked the Westgate Hotel .Soldiers opened fire 22 Chartists were killed Mass arrests followed and the Leaders John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were transported to Australia”. [7].

During the 1830’s and 1840’s there was widespread depression and slump leading to severe shortage of foodstuffs and starvation by the masses of working people. Feargus O’Connor, Brontere O Brien and Julian Harney were in the leadership of the Chartist movement. This was the period of revolutionary action by the working class, Plug Riots which meant that Miners took the plugs out of the machines. Hoyle comments “Strikes broke out in the Midlands and the North against wage cuts and unemployment”.  [8]. Cuffay was now the acknowledged leader of the London tailors. More petitions were presented to Parliament with no visible response.

Hoyle mentions the Communist utopian leader in London Thomas Spence 1750-1814. Thomas Spence was a revolutionary utopian communist who advocated revolutionary change and the overthrow of capitalism.  For a better appreciation of Spence I would refer you to my Previous article on Spence in SF 13   [9]. Hoyle has a reformist outlook and doesn’t really appreciate the Revolutionary aspirations of Utopian Communists like Spence and others. Spence was to emerge in a period before the Working class had matured and consequently much of his writing has a utopian flavour. It would be left to the Marxist movement to consciously work out how the Working class could achieve Socialism.

Hoyle refers to another utopian communist Robert Owen as just another Philanthropist who favoured cooperation and set up various communities like His communities New Lanark and Harmony. Owen was more than this and for a proper appreciation of Owen and his major political contribution as a utopian communist we have to turn to Frederick Engels’s great Work Anti-Duhring.  “His advance to Communism (Owens) was the turning point in Owen’s life, as long as he merely played the part of a philanthropist he had reaped nothing but wealth, applause, honour and glory, but when he came forward with his communist theories, the situation was entirely changed. All social movements, all real advances made in England in the interests of the Working Class were associated with Owen’s name. Thus in 1819 after five years effort he was successful in securing the first Law limiting Labour of women and children in the Factories. He presided at the first Congress at which the Trades Unions of all England united in a single great trades association (The Grand Consolidated Trade Union). As transition measures to the complete communist organisation of Society”.    [10].

In 1847 the chartist Leadership organised a demonstration to present their petition to Downing Street on Universal suffrage. There were 150,000 thousand people on the Demonstration, but the leadership of the chartists particularly Feargus O’Connor, a reformist backed down and  told the masses assembled “O’Connor had explained that there was to be no procession with the petition to the House of Commons”. [11] Cuffay and the physical force element in the crowd opposed this as a complete climb-down from the reformist Leadership of Connor and others. The Morning Chronicle reported the following   “Mr Cuffay said he believed the whole Convention were a set of cowardly humbugs and he would have nothing more to do with them”.  [12].

From now on Cuffay would participate with the more militant sections of the chartists. These meetings where armed uprisings were planned were easily penetrated by spies and informers. Cuffay became active and was Secretary of Ulterior Committee of Chartists and Irish Confederates.

Hoyle comments  “In London The Ulterior Committee of Chartists and Irish confederates began a meeting on 20th July with around 30-40 delegates present including the Home Office Spy Thomas Powell , according to Powell Cuffay attended the first meeting and on 13th august he was appointed Secretary at a meeting  at Bree dons Beer shop in Marylebone”. [13].

Most of the delegates were arrested including Cuffay. He stood trial and was transported to Tasmania in Australia. After he served his sentence in Australia, Cuffay   who was now in his seventies addressed meetings and was active in the working class movement in Tasmania, unfortunately Cuffay was destitute when he died in a Workhouse on 29th July 1870.Cuffay remained to his death a fighter and a revolutionary who made a significant contribution to the chartist and working class movement in Britain.

Martin Hoyle has written a useful and Informative book with many illustrations depicting the oppression of slavery and how this affected chartists and revolutionaries like William Cuffay. Hoyle’s major weakness is that as a reformist academic he presents the information as a bystander and not as participants in the working class movement as Marx and Engels were. He sees the Working class as spectators and much of his illustrations depict middle class Reformers like Dickens and Wilberforce. He does Mention Owen and Spence but without a Marxist perspective he presents no alternative and the book remains an academic History of Chartism and Slavery.


  1.  William Cuffay The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader
  2.        Ditto                           Ditto
  3.         Ditto                          Ditto
  4.          Ditto                         Ditto
  5.           Ditto                        Ditto
  6. K Marx  F Engels     Collected Works  Vol  11
  7. William Cuffay    The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader
  8.     Ditto                              Ditto
  9.   Socialist Fight.  No  13
  10.   F.Engels          Anti  Duhring
  11. William Cuffay       The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader
  12.   Ditto                                  Ditto
  13.    Ditto                                  Ditto.







images alfred east 2

The Alfred East art Gallery’s permanent collection is housed in a purpose built building with over 900 art objects at Sheep Street Kettering.  It is one of the few Art Galleries owned and run by a local authority.

Katie Boyce one of the Gallery officers has written and displayed an excellent guide to the permanent Collection, its origin and how the guiding light Sir Alfred East gave the inspiration for the construction of an Art Gallery to house works of Art including his own.

images Alfred eastimages  newby bridge

Sir Alfred East (1844-1913) was an exceptional artist as you can see from the examples above . His self portrait and ‘Newby Bridge’ shows his skill in both portraiture and Landscapes. He could draw and knew how to depict using the right perspective appreciating how light could be used as a form of illusion and reality.

East lived during the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He was befriended by Whistler and Frederick Leighton. It was due to Leighton’s influence that he became President of the Royal academy.

East was well travelled and visited Japan and Australia. His Japanese prints were influenced by the early Japanese masters like Hiroshige .He was much appreciated wherever he went. his drawings and etchings were a great favourite with most admirers.


images cherry blossom

At the opening of the Gallery on the 31st July 1913 Sir Edmund Gosse had this to say about East

“not a temporal or ephemeral artist but an artist who was first and last a painter of exquisite distinction and full of originality” [1].

Katie Boyce gives a history of the gallery from its opening in 1913 to the present day. The Gallery was first and foremost the inspiration of East who like JMW Turner wanted his works to be given to the public and appreciated by them.


images landscape

When East offered his collection to Kettering Urban District Council he insisted  “That they should aquire a suitable site within the district and construct on the site a suitable Art Gallery to take a collection of pictures and etchings and forever maintain tem as a separate collection which should be open to the Public free of charge”  [2].

This decision to build an Art Gallery and house the permanent collection was carried out. John Alfred Gotch a local Architect and member of the Gotch Family was responsible for the layout and design.

Kettering is indeed fortunate in that not just one famous artist but two others besides East blossomed into very fine Painters.

images alfred east 3


Thomas Cooper Gotch a member of the Gotch family is also remembered in the catalogue as well as Walter Bonner Gash. Katie Boyce shows how both Gotch and Bonner Gash used Portraiture as a genre to a very fine degree.


Much of Cooper Gotch’s work is displayed together with East in the permanent collection. Both Gotch and East would move to Cornwall and live and paint in the Artist Colonies there. This has been a favourite place to paint for many artists. Artists as diverse as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth have made Cornwall their home and the Tate have a gallery at St Ives.

As an Open University Art History student one of my first assignments was to write about Cooper Go tch ‘s “Death the Bride”.


Gotch himself described “Death the Bride”   “A woman veiled passing through a mass of scarlet and mauve poppies” [3]. There is a good deal of symbolism in Gotch’s paintings.

untitled cooper gtchimagesJ8GVKJ4C

Much of Gotch’s paintings and drawings were symbolic representing religious and other aspects. He developed the genre of portraiture to a very high degree.


” Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931) was one of the original members of the Newlyn Colony of artists” [4].


Walter Bonner Gash (1869-1928), although not a native of Kettering was a very talented artist who moved from Lincoln to Kettering to take up a position at the local Art College.  “He decided to reside here and soon became an instructor in Art in Wellingborough and the Kettering Technical College”  [5].

untitled inseparables

Bonner Gash who completes the great Triumpherate of Talented artists in Kettering. Together with East and Cooper Gotch Bonner Gash was also to excel at painting portraitures and Landscapes.

imagesZXA28PS3untitled in the streetuntitled woodland

Bonner Gash could draw and use etchings as well as East and Cooper Gotch. His use of light and perspective is brilliantly displayed in my two favourite paintings of Bonner Gash   “The Inseparables” and “Old Men in Rockingham road park”.

“My father’s last major painting was called the “Inseparables” and it is of my school friend Vera and me walking in a meadow” [6].

As well as providing a background to the permanent collection Katie Boyce describes the History and Development of the Kettering and District art society which is thriving and continues to this day.

Kettering for an Average market town has been able to develop and encourage the development of artistic practices.



The rest of the catalogue discuses the role of the Friends of Kettering Art Gallery and Museum.

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationuntitled 10

Finally  Katie provides us with an alphabetical list of past works from all Genre’s , Portraiture ,abstraction ,Landscape. there are also etchings ,drawings and aspects of modernist art.

Kettering art Society and the art Gallery are very innovative organising regular Exhibitions of Local Artists. The Alfred East art Gallery has led the way in showing works of art from artists like Millais , Vanessa Bell and others since the art Gallery opened its doors in 1913.

This Guide to the Permanent collection has been well produced and collated by Katie Boyce and others.

I would strongly recommend this Book as a good introduction to the Collection of art at the Alfred East art Gallery in Kettering.


1)  Alfred East Permanent Collection Guide

2)     Ditto                                    Ditto

3)      Ditto                                    Ditto

4)      Ditto                                     Ditto

5)       Ditto                                    Ditto

6        Walter Bonner Gash Unsung Edwardian Hero – Clare Bowyer and Margaret Bonner Gash


“The True Levellers or Diggers and the emergence of Communism in Britain during the latter part of the English revolution 1648-1651”


Class society in Britain during the early 1640,s was experiencing a severe economic crisis. Britain was largely a landowning and agricultural country with small capitalist enterprises and workshops with artisans and journeyman. Journeymen were the mere appendages of the yeomanry of small masters. This period is noted for the struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament and the establishment of the Republic from 1649-1660.there were two parties in the commons ,the Presbyterians (Landowners) and the Independents (squires , gentry lawyers and merchants).Oliver Cromwell was a squire and a member of the Independents.

There were large divisions between rich and poor exacerbated by Enclosure of common land by the Landowning class. “There is a permanent background of potential unrest, large scale unemployment, breakdown of government disorder might occur as it did in 1607) {1}. These were the enclosure riots. The continuing battle by parliament to check the power of the king and defend its own interests. Land was the decisive factor.  The gentry were becoming more and more alienated from aristocratic rule. “Marx spoke of the poor laws as the means by which the agricultural people first forcibly expropriated were driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds and then whipped , branded tortured by laws grotesquely terrible into the discipline necessary for the wages system” {2}.

The Presbyterian party in parliament led by Lord Essex and Lord Manchester were for more parliamentary control of the King. They wanted a constitutional monarch checked by the power of parliament. The Independents led by Pym and Hampden and supported by republicans like Cromwell, Ireton and Marten wanted the King to surrender to parliament. Farm Labourers, artisans and the poor were not represented in parliament. The Gentry and the squires were the closed representing the democratic interests in parliament. The English revolution is a class struggle between the Monarchy and parliament represented by squires, the yeomanry, lawyers and merchants. The civil war started in 1641 at Edge hill when the King and his advisors refused to discuss with parliament. The civil war ended at Naseby in Northamptonshire in 1645. Charles sought help from the Scots and was defeated and arrested at Preston. During the first Civil war Cromwell, Fairfax and Ireton broke with Essex and Manchester and created “The New Model army”. This was an Army of professional soldiers, composed of Artisans, farm labourers   “The Middling sort of men”. This army was a proletarian army who fought against the aristocracy and the bourgeois.

In 1646 elements in the army mainly the agitators took control and demanded rights and a document called “The agreement of the people” was drawn up as well as “a Grand Remonstrance”. Presbyterian leaders connived to protect the King and wanted to disband the army. Parliament prevaricated and in 1648 Colonel Thomas Pride marched into Parliament and arrested Presbyterian leaders and ensured that there would be no more negotiations with the King. This was called “Pride’s Purge”. Parliament was referred to as “The Rump”.

The Levellers a movement amongst craftsmen, artisans and small craftsmen drew up a charter of rights.

  1. Annual Parliaments
  2. Freedom of conscience
  3. Equality before the Law.

It was the sovereignty of the people and manhood suffrage that Leveller leaders like Lilburne, Walwyn and Marten fought for. The Levellers were the left wing of the democratic movement in the army and were opposed to the Army Grandees of Cromwell, Fairfax and Ireton. The Leveller movement emerged in the army and put their demands to the Grandees at Burford Church in Putney in 1647. Craftsmen and agitators like Thomas Rains borough, Cornet Joyce and John Wildman debated with Cromwell, Fairfax and Ireton the rights of the common people for manhood suffrage. “Constitutional levellers were the radical left wing of the revolutionary party the Independents” {3}. Ireton Cromwell’s son in law challenged the Levellers at Burford “a doctrine of natural rights would lead to communism” {4} “The Levellers suggested that Parliament should be made representative of the free people. Some Levellers excluded paupers and wage labourers from the free people” {5}. “The fact that the most radical political party (Levellers) even of the revolutionary decades excluded over half the male population and all women “{6}.

There was no agreement between the agitators and the grandees. Cromwell terminated the debates at Putney and ordered the agitators back to their regiments. The Leveller revolt was over, many Levellers were arrested and some were execute. On 30th January 1649 Charles 1st was executed and a Republic was declared. The Levellers still continued to fight on .They were the democratic wing who advocated natural rights and manhood suffrage but rejected communism. They embraced private property and looked back to the Norman yoke and Anglo Saxon rights against the Normans in the 12th Century. “On the contrary they expressed the outlook of small men of property. They sharply differentiated themselves from “the diggers” who advocated a communist programme and began communal cultivation of land at S Georges Hill in 1649” {7}. The big distinction between the Levellers and the Diggers was on the issue of private property “The Leveller petition of 11th September repudiated any idea of abolishing property, levelling estates or making all common” {8}.

In December 1648 Gerrard Winstanley announced his communism when a group of his supporters started digging the common land in Digger communities at St Georges, Wellingborough in Northants, Coxhall in Kent, Barnet in Herts Enfield in Middlesex Dunstable in Bedfordshire and Bosworth in Leicestershire.  “Winstanley spoke for those whom the constitutional Levellers would have disenfranchised, servants, labourers and paupers” {9}  “Constitutional Levellers then were not in fundamental disagreement (with the Grandees).The sanctity of property and their desire to extend democracy was within the limits of capitalist society”  {10}. The Digger movement which was non-violent and had no support from the army or the constitutional Levellers. They had a utopian view of society, they hoped that other people would form communities with private property or wage labour. “The digger colony of St Georges Hill was intended to be the first stage in a sort of General Strike against wage labour” {11}.

The Diggers were utopian in that they believed by digging or using the waste lands, forests and parks that were enclosed that the Grandees and Cromwell would not evict them. Cromwell asserted the right of private property and the enclosure of common land. The Diggers in 1650 were defeated and were evicted from their communities or just left. They believed that communism, tilling the soil and working together would be the solution of Society’s ills.Winstanley had great foresight. They failed to appreciate that capitalist society after the Cromwellian Revolution would combat communism and treat it as its mortal enemy. The working class had not emerged and there were no organisations like Friendly societies or Trade Unions to organise the poor. This would emerge in the period following the English Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It would appear unlikely that scattered unorganised and undernourished Labourers and artisans would have the capacity or the political consciousness to undertake Revolutionary action to establish a new economic social and political order” {12}. “The sketch of a classless society that follows  (Winstanleys  Law of Freedom and other writings) is a deeply interesting blend of radical democracy  professed by the main body of the Levellers with the Communism of More’s Utopia” {13}. “ Thus two centuries before Marx Winstanley in the simplest of plain English in (The Law of Freedom) dared to say that Religion is the opium of the people” {14}

To conclude Winstanley and the diggers were a revolutionary movement of proletarians during the 17th century .their communism was based on utopian ideals particularly the bible. They believed that this was their solution to the poverty surrounding them. There was no organisation to support them in their universal campaign to till the soil, work together and share. Because of their utopian and non-violent beliefs the Diggers were unprepared to deal with emerging capitalism. Winstanley and his followers believed that by example everyone would allow them to continue practising their communism. Communism would need a scientific and materialist basis which was to be developed by Marx and Engels in the 19th century. Their tradition was not lost. In the 18th century Thomas Spence would advance a theory of agrarian communism. As the working class developed from the 1780s-1830s corresponding societies would emerge. They are the embryo of Trade union organisation which would lead in the 1890’s to revolutionary implications. The ideas of Marx and Engels would be crucial in understanding how the emancipation of the working class could be put on a scientific basis. In Part 2 I will consider Thomas Spence and the radical Milieu of Cobbett, Paine, Hunt and the corresponding societies.


  1. Hill C Puritanism and Revolution Studies in the Interpretation of the English Revolution  pg. 205
  2.  Hill C    Century of Revolution pg.26
  3. Hill   C   World Turned upside Down
  4. Hill    C  Century of Revolution pg.129
  5. Hill    C  Century of Revolution pg.175
  6. Hill     C Century of Revolution pg.175
  7. Hill     C Century of Revolution  pg.129
  8. Hill      C  World Turned Upside Down  pg.119
  9. Hill       C  World Turned upside Down  pg. 121
  10.  Hill       C  World Turned Upside Down  pg.123
  11.  Manning B  1649 Crisis of the English Revolution pg.119
  12.   Manning B  1649 Crisis of the English Revolution
  13.   Brailsford H The Levellers and the English Revolution pg.659
  14.   Brailsford  H  The Levellers and the English Revolution pg.669





Thomas Spence, an Agrarian Socialist was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1750. This period was a ferment of Revolutionary activity influenced by the Revolutionary developments in France. Spence moved to London and became a Bookseller and Land Reformer. He was influenced by the Utopian Socialist ideals of Robert Owen.

Britain in the 1790’s was decisive for Revolutionary Politics in Britain. Many middle class Radicals like Cobden, Bright, and Place were active for Parliamentary Reform. The great Reform Act of 1832 was a long way off. Many of these Middle class Radicals were active in the Corresponding Societies which were the germ of future Trade Unionism in Britain.

Spence was part of the continuation of Communist politics that had emerged in the 1640’s under Everard, Winstanley and the ‘Diggers’. “Like Winstanley and the Diggers Spence and his followers took radical ideology into the world of Socialism” [1]. The Corresponding societies were the embryo of future working class organisations and Trade Unions. Edward Thompson in the ‘Making  of the English Working Class’ has shown how the Corresponding Societies were to have a great influence on  Working class organisations . “There is some evidence that by the end of 1816 the Spenceans had reorganised their work, in sections and divisions, on the old plan of the London Corresponding Society [2 ].

Spence a member of the London Corresponding society agitated for Land reform, the abolition of private property and Communism. He formed a group of like-minded followers. They were called Spenceans. They included, Artisans, small producers and journeymen.  Working class activity against poverty basic rights and a living wage had led to several insurrectionary movements being formed. The most prominent of these were “The Luddites” amongst Textile workers in Lancashire and Yorkshire. They saw their livelihoods threatened with the introduction of the Power Looms and the use of modern Machinery. There was very little Poor law relief and these workers would be left to starve together with their Families. The Luddites armed into small bands organised raids to smash the Power looms and even attack the Capitalists in their own homes. Many Workers were shot, arrested and hanged.

The Capitalist state used spies, infiltrators and paid agents to infiltrate behead and destroy the movement. This was the climate that Spence and his followers flourished in. Spence advocated a plan called ‘Spensonia’ where there would be common ownership and land distribution. “Such land would be taken into common ownership” [3 ]. “ Right to equal share of the land is seen first and foremost as a means to give everyone access to productive capital in which they can work for themselves” [4 ]. These policies were far removed from the reformist ideas of Robert Owen and his factory system at Lanark.

Spence advocated a Utopian Communist society of little farmers and little Master men with parishes of self-government. Spence’s views coincided with many of the Chartist demands advocated by Fergus O’ Connor, Bronterre O’Brien and Julian Harney, Chartist leaders who led the great Working class movement that would emerge after Spence’s death. Both Karl Marx and Frederick Engels paid great attention to the Chartist movement and worked closely with many of their leaders.

“A National assembly would be elected annually by the Individuals in each Parish” [5]. Spence in his writings sought to lay out a concise plan on how his Communist society would be renewed again and again. “Spence envisaged a process of permanent revolutionary upheaval until society had been restructured on the right principles” [6]. Spence was also influenced by the Bourgeois Revolutions of America and France of 1789 and 1777. Spence’s parish system of self-government could be compared to the Parish Commune on which Marx refers to in his essay “The Civil war in France”. The noticeable difference is that the Paris Commune is more advanced than Spence’s ideal of Parish Government.

“He may have contemplated a Babeuf type dictatorship as a means of bringing about Revolution in society” [7]. The Spensonia document further lists his constitutional aims and policies.

  1.  “ These rights are equality, Liberty safety and property”
  2. “All human beings are equal by nature and have a continual and inalienable property in the earth and its natural resources”
  3. “Landed property always was originally acquired either by conquest or encroachment on the common property of mankind” [8].
  4.  “Hence it is plain that the land or the earth belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in one equal manner” [9].EP Thompson in his Making of the English working class makes several references to ‘Spenceans’ and their aims of a revolutionary Communist Government.  “Spence took up Paine’s argument against hereditary Aristocracy and carried them to their conclusion. We must destroy not only personal and hereditary Lordship, but the cause of theirs which is private property in Land” [10]. This working class movement was composed of Jacobin Émigrés, Scottish weavers, English Jacobins and United Irishmen. There were naval mutinies in 1797. Spence and His “Spenceans” like their Predecessor Winstanley and the “Diggers” were utopian Communists and Land reformers. Unlike Winstanley Spence never in practice started a commune like the “Diggers”.   Informers and paid agents infiltrated many of the Trades Clubs in London and many of the Insurrectionary movements like “The Plug Riots” and “The Luddite Movement” was defeated and their leaders hanged or shot. Many working class radicals suffered the fate of the noose because of these informers. In the 1790’s Trade Union organisation was illegal, many workers met in secret with an underground press and secret oaths with a special pass words. There would be guards on the doors and you would have to know the password to gain entry. They also armed themselves for protection.Spence’s revolutionary plan never came to fruition. His idea of common ownership and Utopian Communism was never realised.  Scientific Socialism and Marxism would be developed by  Marx and Engels. Both Marx and Engels were active in the ‘First International’. Marx together with Chartists like Ernest Jones and Julian Harney would develop the ideas of Scientific Socialism during the middle part of the Nineteenth century. Thomas pence like all Utopian Communists believed that Communism would emerge without the need for a disciplined and Centralised Revolutionary party dedicated to the overthrow of Communism. As yet Communism was just developing and without an organised and material and scientific basis  ‘The Working Class’ and its organisations Trade Unions it would be difficult , but none the less Spence and other Utopians made a great contribution to Communist thought and action through his writings ‘Pigs Meat’. Like Winstanley he believed that by written word and the use of the Bible this  would be enough to convert Workers, Artisans and Journeyman to his vision of Communism, although unlike Winstanley he was no Pacifist  “ Both the State and the Land were to be seized by the people and reconstituted under their ownership and control”[13].ENDNOTES
  5.  Spence was arrested many times for his views and prevented from putting his “Spensonia” into practice. His followers had influence in the London Corresponding Society and amongst sections of the Working class.
  6. “The Spencean advocates had won much support amongst the Trades Clubs especially among the shoemakers. Their policy that all feudality or Lordship in the soil be abolished and the territory declared to be the peoples common farm” [12].
  7. Spence and his followers supported the insurrectionary movement that was put down with much savagery by the Capitalist state. One of his leading followers Thomas Evans was active in, the London Corresponding society and advocated insurrection, arming their supporters through drilling and other activities, but there is no evidence that Spence himself supported it.  “Whether Spence himself was directly implicated in insurrectionary conspiracy is not clear but he certainly believed in the methods of the underground, the secret press, the anonymous handbill and the Tavern Club” [11].






This exhibition shows Turner’s Paintings during the latter part of his life from 1835-1851. Turner a Revolutionary Painter of the 19th Century, revolutionised the use of paint and other materials , although living through the Victorian Period , He understand the great social and political changes that were taking place in Britain at the latter half of the 19th Century.

ARTS Turner 153266

Turner lived during the same period as Byron and Shelley , who also again represented Revolutionary developments in Art and Literature , much of Turner’s watercolours in Venice and Europe remind you of Childe Harold the setting of Byron’s great romantic poem which reflects the Napoleonic age together with the advent of Industrialisation. Turner was able to paint great watercolours reflecting light and colour. in all his paintings Turner showed subject and meaning together with a sun setting over a lake.



The Tate Exhibition gives a flavour of what Turner could achieve ” Turner’s understanding of light and colour developed over a life time’s practice reached its climax in these final works. However despite their formal and technical qualities and even at their most abstract these paintings maintained Turner’s commitment to subject and meaning”  [1].


The Angel Troubling the Pool circa 1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Turner went to Venice and other places in Europe to paint what he saw , he produced many fine watercolours using graphite , pencil and even gouache. He was concerned with natural scenery together with History and mythological characters. His concern was to show how Turner developed his art to represent changes in History , there are many references to Roman History and many artists took the great tour and that is where Turner used Watercolours to pain some of his greatest works during 1835-1845.


The death of Actaeon is a great mythological story about an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses .


The use of bright colours of a mythological period shows how Turner is reaching out to show dramatically great Historical figures from the past.


art Historians have written on Turner’s huge contribution to Landscape paintings. “his intent in these paintings was rarely purely illustrative or documentary  instead he exploited the potential of such subjects. The past offered lessons for the present, the present could be understood from a historical perspective”. [2].

On his return from Europe and his grand tours Turner concerned himself with representations at sea whether it be great sea battles or whalers or Slave Ships. this was at the height of the Napoleonic wars and Turner showed great sea battles as well as natural disasters. He once travelled on a boat during great storms that occurred.



The above painting shows Turner at his best as the Temaire which is being tugged back to shore. Turner shows his adept use of colour and light with the setting sun and blurring of images in the distance. He was a master of Linear perspective and the way you can see the coastline lit up, everything can be seen in this painting.

John  Ruskin in his Modern Painters (1842-1860) a noted Art historian at the time had this to say about Turner. “He argued that Turner’s greatness as a landscape painter , his superiority to the masters of the past lay in the way that he depicted even the most evanescent natural phenomena with scientific exactitude” [3].

The use of Atmospheric effects coupled with his attention to colour and light were important attributes of Turner’s greatness. “Turner did have a particular interest in atmospheric effects observing the movement of the sky and the water”. [4].



“The Clore Gallery in Tate Britain further testifies to Turner’s canonisation as a modern artist who prefigures not merely Impressionism but also Twentieth century” [5].

As the Turner Catalogue of late Turner painting set free argues “Turner’s commitment to a world understood as in a state of flux chimed with a particularly turbulent period in History. The stable and ordered world of 18c society had been blown apart by unparalleled  Industrial advances, urbanisation social unrest and agitation for political change”. [6].


The above painting above of the Burning of the houses of Parliament shows how Turner was able to use his use of colour with the burning embers shown up as bright orange lights. His knowledge of colour was learnt from Goethe the German writer and thinker who  wrote a book on Colour theory which interested Turner and he studied using different mediums of Paint, Oil , Graphite , pencil and watercolour.

As one art historian Commented  ” Painting would be set free from artificial limitations and an imperfect understanding of the History of Art” [7].

In this review I have sought to place Turner as one of the founders of Modernism. Some Art Historians disagree with this, but Turner’s use of colour and his blurring in many of his paintings would lead to Impressionism and eventually Non figurative art and Abstraction.

Turner’s status as an artist in my opinion is as ” Father of Abstraction”.

(c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Turner on Vanishing Day Charles Parrot.





4)        DITTO                                                           DITTO         PG.175

5)     DITTO                                                               DITTO         PG.178


7)      DITTO                                                            DITTO           PG.22



Paul Klee was an important German abstract artist who lived through Revolutionary developments in Germany. Born in 1879 he saw the advent of the German Revolution as well as the inter war years and the rise of Fascism in Germany. He was a colleague of Wassily Kandinsky the Great Russian abstractionist. They both worked in the Bauhaus and were both active in the Der Blaue Reiter movement in Germany.


Klee’s aim in his art was to make ‘visible the invisible’ He used many mediums particularly, Gouache pencil and water colours. He was interested in Colour and Line. He advocated the use of colour using different aspects and making his art translucent with many oranges and Blue’s.
In 1914 he travelled to Tunisia and was enraptured with the possibilities , travelling with Franc Marc and others it is in this period that Klee begins to master colour using delicate watercolours he represents Tunisian Holy cities. The First World War of 1914-1918 greatly affects Klee and the use of abstraction is a means of showing what he feels “Klee becomes increasingly productive seeing abstraction as a means to disassociate himself from the World at War , The more abstract the art the more horrible this World , he writes “ [1].

Revolution occurs in Germany when the German Fleet mutinies reminiscent of the Russian Revolution of 1917. “Mutinies in the German fleet lead to a Revolution, echoing the Russian Revolution of 1917” [2]. In 1919 there is an uprising led by the Spartacists under the Leadership of Rosa Luxembourg, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Franz Mehring. “Spartacist uprising in Berlin, in April, a Bavarian Soviet republic is briefly established and Klee joins its action committee of Revolutionary artists. Within weeks the Republic is overthrown”. [3]. The German Social democratic Party betrays the Revolution and Leaders like Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky betray the heritage of Marx and Engels and side with the Imperialists during the Horrific war that follows.
Klee escapes to Switzerland where he begins to experiment with Watercolour, gouache ink and Graphite. His watercolour on chalked and primed Linen Rembrancre Sheet 1918 is a classic example of what he thinks of the war.



Other works are His Friendly place 1919, showing aerial combat and the beginning of His Oil Transfer works using watercolours to transfer line and drawing. In Switzerland Klee meets Hans Arp Tristan Tzara and other members of the Anti-dada Group. “Klee develops the ‘Oil Transfer method of reproduced drawings or particular details by tracing them over a sheet of painted paper”. [4].
Klee is now a teacher at the Bauhaus. In 1923 Klee holds his exhibition exhibiting works like Static-Germany gradation 1923 and Assyrian Games 1923.

Klee had shown in 1918 his sympathies for the short lived Soviet republic “That part of us which somehow aims for eternal values would better able to receive support in a communist Community” [5].

Klee continues to represent his different paintings using the Oil transfer method and his use of geometric shapes demonstrating his master of Line, Colour and Shape and totally in control of how the picture plane should be represented. Other mediums that Klee used were Cardboard and using watercolours with China ink.
His Overture series of paintings where he uses paint pen and ink where he represents the picture of Peace and an end to War and Militarism. From 1923 Klee starts to use Lettering in his images searching for that elusive space involving colour and line which he wanted to show his inner feelings and emotions.
The use of Diagonals and squares and triangles becomes a common trademark of Klee’s work. It is abstract pointillism. Klee’s use of Rectangular shapes which are dubbed magic squares can be compared to Mohology-Nagys great geometrical constructiveness. “Yet the investigation of appearances should not be underestimated”. [6].




In 1933 fleeing from Nazi Germany Klee went to Switzerland and eventually took up Swizz citenship. In his mural of 1924 Klee started using Tempera in his pictures using different shades of colour and a repetitive line of xs. “The picture with its shades of purple, green and yellow appears very dark. It is covered with X’s and seems to be divided into a mass of small squares without however there always being a contrast of colour between them”. [7].

Klee had a tendency to apply a subjective idealist method to his art. He was influenced by Ernst Mach who Lenin refers to in Volume 14 as an Empirical critic. Mach rejects the external world by constructing a reality made up of sensations. This was a return to Berkeley and his Idealism rejecting the fact that the External world is a reflection of material objects and that is the true source of Knowledge. Klee’s reliance on Mach is a weakness but in his art of representing his ideas Klee was trying to make the Invisible Visible. “He succeeded in combing geometrical shapes objective representation, negation of Artistic style.”[8] “Klee used a spray technique whereby he covered part of the paper with a Stencil and sprayed the free places with watercolours” [9].


During the 1930’s Klee continual strove to oppose Fascist Social realist art with his abstractions signifying his Ant-Fascist Art. Revolt of the Viaduct 1937 “This picture with all its menace is a declaration of war on the Nazis who if they been unable to impose complete artistic conformity had at least successfully suppressed all individual art”. [10].


Revolutions of the Viaduct 1937.
Paul Klee was a Great revolutionary artist who in his use of abstraction and by using watercolours, graphite, and pencil drawing used line and shape to create art of Revolutionary implications. His participation in the short-lived Republic shows his credentials as a Revolutionary Communist. I will leave you with Klee’s comment on his involvement in his fight for communism and his total opposition to Fascism and Barbarism “Right from the Beginning it seemed that this communist republic would be short-lived, but it did give us the opportunity of checking our subjective in such a community” [11].

1) Tate Modern Booklet Paul Klee
2) Tate Modern Booklet Paul Klee
3) Ditto Ditto
4) Statement By Paul Klee Tate Modern
5) Ditto Ditto
6) Ditto Ditto
7) Partsch.S Klee Taschen Germany. Pg.55
8) Ditto Ditto pg.60
9) Ditto Ditto pg. 60
10) Ditto Ditto pg.92
11) Statement by Paul Klee Tate Modern.