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Henry Hyndman

The Communist Cricketer

Throwback Thursday

10-Apr-2014

It’s hard to imagine that Henry Hyndman, who played for Cambridge University and Sussex, was probably the most famous left-wing player in cricket history.

Those cricketers who take an interest in politics tend to be conservative in their outlook, which is hardly surprising given that most learned the game at public schools and emerge from middle-class backgrounds. Former Sussex captain Ted Dexter fought the 1964 election for the Conservatives in Cardiff South East, where he was heavily beaten by Jim Callaghan, a future Prime Minister.

It would have been interesting to eaves-drop on a conversation between ‘Lord Ted’ and Henry Hyndman, who played 13 first-class matches in 1864-65 as a right-handed batsman of modest ability who scored two half-centuries,

Hyndman had already decided on a career in politics whilst at Trinity College. He stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the 1860 General Election in the Marylebone constituency but after reading the Communist Party manifesto he became fascinated by the doctrine of Karl Marx and in particular his views on the capitalist society.

He wrote two well-received books on the subject and in 1881 set up the Social Democratic Federation, the first Marxist party in Britain. Although a talented writer and brilliant public speaker, Hyndman’s dictatorial approach didn’t always enthuse his fellow socialists, especially when he took a £340 bribe from the Tory party to field candidates in two London seats designed to split the liberal vote and ensure the Tories prevailed. It backfired spectacularly when the SDF candidates polled 59 votes between them.

Britain’s first Marxist political party was later subsumed into the Labour Representation committee, which was renamed the Labour Party in 1906. Hyndman died in 1921, but he did live to see the formation of the first British Communist Party in 1918. On his death-bed Hyndman admitted that his one true regret in life was that he didn’t win his cricket blue whilst at Cambridge, surely the only recorded instance of a communist cricketer regretting he wasn’t a blue.

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