This is a wonderful piece of political memorabilia - ephemera feels too insubstantial a term - from the London radicalism of 160 years ago. It's a membership card of the Land and Labour League, an organisation which is not well known and only survived a few years, but was of real importance in the development of a determinedly radical tradition within the movements for political reform and social justice.
Many thanks to Richard Gold for recognising its importance and steering it in the direction of one of small band of political anoraks who collect this sort of thing (viz the author).
The Land and Labour League consisted largely of supporters of the Chartist radical Bronterre O'Brien (died 1864), who is sometimes regarded as a proto-socialist. They had mustered in force in some of the central London branches of the Reform League.
O'Brien's followers - many of them self-educated artisans - were strong advocates of currency reform, land nationalisation, rights for women and - though it's not on the League's list of founding principles - republicanism. The paper associated with the LLL was called the Republican. It was published for two years from 1870, and so through the period of the Paris Commune, which many LLL members supported. The O'Brienites were also instinctively opposed to class collaboration and to working with Liberals.
The story of the Land and Labour League has been told by the historian Royden Harrison in Before the Socialists. As well as establishing the League, many O'Brienites were also active in the International Working Men's Association (the First International) where they worked with Karl Marx and other emigre socialists living in London.
Marx had a mixed opinion of his O'Brienite allies, writing of the followers of 'the sect of the late Bronterre O'Brien, [who] are full of follies and crotchets such as currency quackery, false emancipation of women, and the like. In spite of these follies, they constitute an often necessary counterweight to trades unionists on the Council [of the IWMA]. They are more revolutionary, firmer on the land question, less nationalistic and not susceptible to bourgeois bribery. Otherwise they would have been kicked out long ago.' Given how irascible Marx often was, this is almost an endorsement!
Later the O'Brienites devoted much of their energies to an ultimately unsuccessful venture to establish a cooperative colony in Kansas - the sort of 'crotchet' of which Marx would have disapproved. They also established the Manhood Suffrage League. And a few of O'Brien's followers were still around in the 1880s to enlist in the ranks of the Social Democratic Federation.
The early 1870s were a high water mark in what was sometimes called social republicanism - the movement demanding the abolition of the monarchy not as an end in itself but as a step towards a truly representative system of governance which would work towards achieving social justice.
A century-and-a-half later, we haven't progressed very far down that path!
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