A Useable Past

The History of Association, Cooperation and un-Statist Socialism

in 19th and early 20th century Britain. ​

​A three volume set

Volume 1. Victorian Agitator, George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906): Co-operation as 'This New Order of Life.'

Volume 2. A New Life, The Religion of Socialism in Britain, 1883-1896: Alternatives to State Socialism.
Volume 3. Class Conflict and Co-operation in 19th and 20th Century Britain.  Education for Association: re-membering for a new moral world.  

C. Stephen Yeo

Vol.1 ISBN 9781911204572  Hardback  £75.00   Order

Vol.1 ISBN 9781911204824  eBook      £49.50   

216 x 140mm.  260 pp. 12 b&w illustrations.

Vol.3 ISBN 9781911204619 Hardback  £75.00   Order

Vol.3 ISBN 9781911204848 eBook        £49.50

216 x 140mm.      

Vol.2 ISBN 9781911204596 Hardback   £75.00    Order 

Vol.2 ISBN 9781911204831 eBook         £49.50

216 x 140mm. 

Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd.


About these books​

Volume 1. Victorian Agitator, George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906):

Co-operation as 'This New Order of Life.'

Holyoake was a classic example of Gramsci’s working-class ‘organic intellectual’.  An Owenite ‘social missionary’, he became a Radical Liberal, Secularist and Co-operator, responsible for the legend of ‘the Rochdale Pioneers’.  A journalist, thinker, multiple ‘joiner’ and promoter of freedom in many settings, Holyoake was also a highly-readable stylist.  An influential 19th century public figure, his life and work have recently been neglected among co-operators as by well historians. The case for reviving work on his ideas is powerful. 

Volume 2. A New Life, The Religion of Socialism in Britain, 1883-1896: Alternatives to State Socialism.

​Starting with an unusual, ‘revivalist’ phase in the history of socialism in the late 1880s and early 1890s, this book goes on to explore the distinctive character of socialism in English history more widely understood. The book characterises ‘the three socialisms’: associationism, statism and collectivism, establishing their presence in the social history of socialism in Britain and elsewhere.

Volume 3.Class Conflict and Co-operation in 19th and 20th Century Britain.  Education for Association: re-membering for a new moral world.  

​This book begins with ‘ways of seeing’ the lives and times of religious and other organisations as instances of cultural creativity, and as rival clusters of social potential.  It tells the story of class conflict over forms of association - for example between the Friendly Societies and the private insurance industry since National Insurance began with Lloyd George in 1911.  Stephen uses his experience at Ruskin College to think practically as well as historically about co-operative schools, ‘access’ to Higher Education and the idea of a co-operative university.

The book ends by suggesting ways forward for Co-operative Studies and co-operative politics – examining the obstacles and opportunities facing twenty-first century Co-operative and Mutual Enterprise. 

About the author

Professor Yeo was Principal of Ruskin College, Oxford, 1989-97 and since then has been Chair of the Co-operative College and the Co-operative Heritage Trust in Manchester and Rochdale, engaging with and writing about the movement.

Stephen began his adult life as a Labour Party Parliamentary candidate in the elections of 1964 and 1966.  As a social historian, he is known for his work on association, cooperation, labour movements and religious and voluntary organisations. He taught at the University of Sussex for 25 years, and he was also active in Brighton’s community politics. 


 “A great read. The Holyoake that emerges is a revelation!” - Nick Matthews, Chair Co-ops. UK.

"Stephen Yeo's mighty fable takes us right into the heart of another way of being governed, and shows how close 19c Cooperative and Mutual movements got to repairing some of the capitalist ills that so affect us now.  As Labour's central state-in-waiting is promising all we can ask for in the sure  knowledge that it can't possibly be delivered, by impressing upon us the size, scale and sheer achievement of independent cooperative projects before the rise of Labour, this is a book with a lot to say about our future out of our past." - Robert Colls History Today November 2017

“A classic study of one of the co-operative movement’s most successful nineteenth-century proselytisers.” Professor Tony Webster, Professor of History Northumbria University.

“I can only praise this account of a great, complex and authentic co-operator. It is going to be extraordinarily welcome.” - Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-ops.UK.

“This is a fine essay on a figure of central importance to the history of co-operation. It is not a new biography, but presents rather an essay in the excavation and application of ideas. As an exposition of modern co-operative thought it will attract attention from a wide readership.”- Professor Gregory Claeys, Professor of the History of Political Thought, Royal Holloway, University of London.

“I found this great work absorbing, educational, stimulating and provocative. Holyoake’s writings, and his times are expertly mined, to convey a powerful sense of his ‘character’, his tone of voice, his commitments and his vision.  It is beautifully written, passionate and erudite.” - Dr. Gill Scott, Deputy Head, School of Humanities, University of Brighton.
“The figure that emerges from this deeply committed work is that of an individual who regarded the ‘art of association’ as it was practiced by thousands of working-class co-operators as a stepping stone to a ‘new order of life’, an alternative religion that would dissolve the power of both capitalism and the state without the need for violent action.“- Professor Peter Gurney, Professor of British Social History, University of Essex.

 “An eye opener… It is a fascinating and beautifully written labour of love: professional, rigorous and full of thought provoking material. “ - Sir Graham Melmoth ,Chief Executive of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), 1996-2002.

 “A fabulous document: rich and full of diverse angles of Holyoake’s life phases and different work foci, plus highlighting successes and real set backs. The thematic and mission of being in the business of making wrong and poverty impossible is so well set out… How little do co-operators really discuss this economic democracy question today! It is so fundamental for transition and transformation to revive this understanding and focus. Such fragments can become a new anti-politics. ..The way democracy has been niggardly allocated by the state and how this was spotted in the 1870s by Holyoake is so completely undiscussed today. Back again to economic democracy as a mission or what I like to call daily democracy like daily bread and part of everyone’s life.”–  Pat Conaty, Research Fellow New Economics Foundation; Research Associate Co-ops.UK. 

Available 2020