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Cole, G. D. H. (George Douglas Howard) (1889-1959)
by Rentfrow, Daphne

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George Douglas Howard Cole (1889-1959)

Political theorist, economist, detective story writer, journalist

Born in Cambridge, Cole would become one of the leading figures in the Fabian Society, serving as chairman from 1939 to 1946 and 1948 to 1950 and as president from 1952 to 1959. Closely connected to the Guild Socialist Movement, Cole helped found the National Guilds League in 1915. For a period in the 1920s, Cole was associated with the more radical, revolutionary wing of the Labour Party: he eventually moved more toward parliamentarianism. Cole's philosophy, born in the English radical tradition that stressed fellowship and the democratic control of the workplace, placed great emphasis on decentralization and pluralism as essential components of socialism. This often put him at odds with the mainstream Labour thinking, which may explain why he never achieved real political power. An historian of the Labour movement, a writer of Labour policy, and educator, Cole was also, with his wife Margaret, the author of a series of detective stories.

Active in the peace movement, Cole was a conscientious objector in the First World War. In 1918, the year he became director of the British Labour party's research department, Cole married Margaret Isabel Postgate, the daughter of Professor J. P. Postgate and sister to R. W. Postgate, a socialist economist. Together, the Coles collaborated on many works of politics, economics, and sociology. Their twenty-nine detective stories, which were widely read and quite popular, often take place in university settings or country houses and feature Superintendent Henry Wilson as the principal detective. The murder victims, not coincidentally, are often capitalists.

Cole first came to prominence with his 1913 work The World of Labour, which would evolve into the theory of Guild Socialism. Convinced that it was possible to have a socialist democracy not based on capitalism (an idea explored in the 1934 What Marx Really Meant), Cole consistently tried to integrate the practical and the visionary. Among his other works are Labour in Wartime (1915); Trade Unionism on the Railways (1915); Chaos and Order in Industry (1920); Trade Unionism and Munitions (1923); A Short History of the British Working Class Movement (3 vols. 1925-1927); A History of the Labour Party (1948).

Cole was Labour correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. In The New Age, Cole, wrote, among other contributions, “Nationalisation and the Guilds” (15.19); “Guilds and Industrial Change” (14.23); “The Genesis of French Syndicalism and Some Unspoken Morals” (14.14); and various letters to the editor.

—Daphnée Rentfrow


  • World Authors, 1900-1950. ed. Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew Kimmens. New York : H.W. Wilson, 1996. 560-61.
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