G. D. H. Cole

British historian, economist, writer (1889-1959)

George Douglas Howard Cole (25 September 1889 – 14 January 1959) was an English political theorist, economist, and historian. As a libertarian socialist, he theorised guild socialism. He belonged to the Fabian Society and was an advocate for the co-operative movement.


  • A society that acquiesces in the presence in its midst of a vast permanent army of unemployed is a society that has ceased to believe in itself.
    • The Next Ten Years in Economic and Social Policy (1929), p. 46
  • We shall never get a chance of building socialism unless we carry with us in the process the consent of the ordinary man. And he, very naturally, takes short views ... We can be at once opportunist and constructive; but we must never, in the search for constructiveness, forget the need for building on the opportunities of the moment, of offering the plain man realities and not mere promises post-dated to the Socialist future.
    • The Next Ten Years in Economic and Social Policy (1929), p. 157
  • Economy à la Sir George May will not help much; for it means nothing positive. ... We need, if not a Five Years Plan, at any rate a centrally controlled attempt to readjust industry and agriculture to the changing needs of the British consumer and of the world market, with less exclusive concentration on the old staple industries and far more attention to the development of those which have a real capacity for expansion.
    • 'Britain's economic future', The New Statesman and Nation (22 August 1931), quoted in Neil Riddell, '‘The Age of Cole’? G. D. H. Cole and the British Labour Movement 1929-1933', The Historical Journal, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 951
  • Gradualism, in this sense, however much it appeals to the first thoughts of the electorate, fails because in the event it is unable to deliver the goods. It may put a Labour Government into office; but it will also ensure its subsequent discredit.
    • Some Essentials of Socialist Propaganda: A Tract For the Times (1932), p. 7
  • I became a Socialist, as many others did in those days, on grounds of morals and decency and aesthetic sensibility. I wanted to do the decent thing by my fellow-men. I could not see why every human being should not have as good a chance in life as I, and I hated the ugliness both of poverty and of the money-grubbing way of life that I saw around me.
    • British Labour Movement-Retrospect and Prospect, Ralph Fox Memorial Lecture, April 1951, Fabian Special, No. 8 (1952), quoted in G. D. H. Cole, Early Pamphlets and Assessment, Volume 1 (2011), p. 56
  • In any socialised enterprise, no matter what its form, socialisation requires that proper provision be made for the democratic participation of the workers in determining the conditions and allocation of work, both at the work place level and at the higher levels of management and control.
    • Capitalism in the Modern World (1956), p. 33

Quotes about Cole

  • Professor Cole is a fluent and engaging writer with a natural sense of style, and avoids like the plague anything that smacks of obscurity or pseudo-profundity. His conversational manner, which probably owes something to the lecture-room, makes him always easy to read, though it is also responsible for a certain looseness of texture which sometimes seems more appropriate to the spoken than to the written word. Any impression, however, that Professor Cole is only skimming the surface of his subject may be corrected by consulting the very thorough and systematic bibliography at the end of the volume. This is a work of encyclopaedic learning, however lightly the learning may be worn. Few people to-day have browsed so widely and so far afield as Professor Cole among these lesser known French and British progenitors of socialist ideas.
    • E. H. Carr, "Early Socialist Thinkers" (1953), published in From Napoleon to Stalin and Other Essays (1980)
  • Douglas is a strong Tory in everything but politics!
  • However much on the intellectual plane Douglas was an internationalist, emotionally—and he never attempted to hide it—he was profoundly attached to England. He was not even a little Englander—really a little Southern Englander!
    • Hugh Gaitskell, 'At Oxford in the Twenties', in Asa Briggs and John Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History: In memory of G. D. H. Cole (1967), p. 12
  • I discovered how much more he hated the liberals than the tories. This came out vividly when we were walking past the ground of the Highclere Estate. ... At this point Douglas, to my astonishment, launched into a panegyric of the English aristocracy. It might not have been wholly serious, but it did, I think, reflect a certain nostalgia for pre-industrial Britain.
    • Hugh Gaitskell, 'At Oxford in the Twenties', in Asa Briggs and John Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History: In memory of G. D. H. Cole (1967), pp. 12-13
  • We afterwards went on to see G. D. H. Cole. ... He struck me as a genuine British Bolshevist, disbelieving in Parliamentary action, disbelieving in the trades union movement and the trades unionist leaders, and waiting only till the shop-stewards movement...was further developed...in order to use the weapon of the general strike, or some approach to it both for political and for industrial purposes. When I suggested that Parliamentary action was the appropriate weapon and that a general election...ought to give Labour a great accession of strength he objected that there were no leaders and no prospect of any. ... Professed himself a thorough "Pacifist"...so that it would seem he was preparing...for a stop-the-war movement by industrial pressure. At the same time he professed to be against the violence which such a movement if carried far enough would necessarily provoke. Personally I should doubt if he has the moral qualities needed for the enterprise.
    • C. P. Scott, diary (3-5 February 1918), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 333