Born in Cambridge, George Douglas Howard 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 Labor 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 Labor thinking, which may explain why he never achieved real political power. An historian of the Labor movement, a writer of Labor 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 Labor 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 Labor, 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.
Major works of George Douglas Howard Cole
– The World of Labor
– A Short History of the British Working Class Movement (3 vol., 1927; rev. ed. 1948)
– The British Common People (with Raymond W. Postgate, 1939; rev. ed. The British People, 1947)
– A History of Socialist Thought (5 vol. in 7, 1953–60)
With his wife Margaret Isabel Cole:
– Over 30 detective stories as well as works on economics and politics