George Douglas Howard Cole (1889-1959) was an English historian, economist, and guild socialist. His teaching, writing, and commitment to political activism affected three generations of Englishmen.
The son of a builder in West London, G. D. H. Cole went from St. Paul's School to Balliol College, Oxford. He coedited the Oxford Reformer, acted in social causes, and joined the Fabian Society. He attempted to reconcile syndicalism and socialism in World of Labour (1913), a plea for public ownership of major industries under the democratic control of unions modeled upon medieval guilds. With a first class in classical moderns and greats, he was awarded a fellowship at Magdalen College. Elected to the Fabian executive in 1915, he rebelled against the old guard to head the quasi-independent Fabian Research Bureau.
During the next decade Cole was away from Oxford writing, often with his wife and fellow Fabian rebel, Margaret Postgate Cole; directing tutorial classes at the University of London; and organizing professional trade unions. He returned to Oxford in 1925 as fellow of University College and university reader in economics and was to have compelling influence upon students such as Hugh Gaitskell. From 1944 until his retirement in 1957 Cole was at All Souls College as first Chichele professor of social and political theory.
Cole was for many years chairman of the Fabian weekly, the New Statesman, contributing to almost every issue during his lifetime. In 1931 he formed the Society for Socialist Information and Propaganda but broke with the society when it moved toward communism. That year he formed the New Fabian Research Bureau as a politically neutral agency for accumulating objective information. This group formed the basis for union in 1938 with the older, badly splintered Fabian Society. Collectivization was omitted from the new rules as a concession to Cole.
Cole's prodigious writings (over 130 works) may be divided into five broad and overlapping categories: guild socialism; history; biography; economic, political, and social analysis; and fiction. His strongest treatment of guild socialism, Self-government in Industry (1917), was an appeal for the pluralistic and romantic socialism which moved Cole all his life. In Case for Industrial Partnership (1957) he tried to adjust the earlier plea to new times.
Cole's historical and biographical work provided the evidence against which he tested his socialist faith and reliance upon the individual. This was especially true in his classic five-volume History of Socialist Thought (1953-1960).
Of Cole's perceptive biographies, the two best are The Life of William Cobbett (1924) and The Life of Robert Owen (1925). The analytical writings, intended to influence or explain, include Principles of Economic Planning (1935) and An Intelligent Man's Guide to the Post-war World (1947). For recreation he wrote, largely with his wife, more than 15 detective novels.
Further Reading on George Douglas Howard Cole
Although there is no biography of Cole, various aspects of his life and thought are discussed in the book by his wife, Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism (1961). See also Anne Fremantle, This Little Band of Prophets: The British Fabians (1959), and As a Briggs and John Saville, eds., Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G. D. H. Cole (1960; rev. ed. 1967), which contains personal recollections of Cole by Ivor Brown, Hugh Gaitskell, Stephen K. Bailey and G. D. N. Worswick. The discussion of Cole's thought in Henry M. Magid, English Political Pluralism: The Problem of Freedom and Organization (1941), suffers from an inadequate historical context.