William Thompson (1775-1833)

William Thompson was an Irish intellectual (philosopher, moral economist and social scientist) whose writings form a major milestone in the development of radical progressive thinking. Born in Cork city in 1775, he became the leading theoretician of the early nineteenth century co-operative movement from which the socialist ideal on these islands grew. He was a pioneer across a wide range of areas and his importance and influence have long been underestimated, despite James Connolly's celebration of him as 'the first Irish socialist: a forerunner of Marx'.


His four major works were:
An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth (1824)

Appeal of One Half of the Human Race (1825)

Labour Rewarded (1827)

Practical Directions for the Establishment of Communities (1830).


An Inquiry has been hailed as a masterpiece of early socialist economic writing and laid the foundation for socialist critique of capitalism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Its major contribution was Thompson's pioneering development of the labour theory of value, which was later established by Marx as a cornerstone of modern socialist thinking. The Appeal, written with Anna Doyle Wheeler, was the first ever detailed statement of socialist feminism. A radical and explosive critique of patriarchy and capitalism, it established Thompson as a sophisticated critic of human oppression in its many forms.

Labour Rewarded proposed the replacement of capitalism with co-operative communism. It was influential on the trade union and Chartist movements with its recommendations on the role of unions and the democratisation of parliament. Practical Directions was a detailed blueprint for co-operative communism. The book was adopted as the guiding model of the co-operative movement and established Thompson as its foremost theoretician.

William Thompson planned to convert his own inherited 1,400 acre estate in West Cork into a co-operative commune but died in March 1833 before the project could be established.

This 'Irish genius', as Connolly called him, foreshadowed Marx in a number of important areas and his critique of exploitative power and philosophy of human emancipation are as inspirational and, in many ways, as relevant today as when he first devised them.




Anna Doyle Wheeler




James Connolly, 'The first Irish socialist: A forerunner of Marx' in Labour in Irish History (Dublin, 1910; London, 1987)

Dolores Dooley, Equality in Community: Sexual Equality in the Writings of William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler (Cork, 1996)

Dolores Dooley (ed.), William Thompson: Appeal (1825) (Cork, 1997)

Desmond Fennell, 'Irish Socialist Thought' in R. Kearney (ed.), The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions (Dublin, 1985)

Patrick Lynch, 'William Thompson and the Irish Socialist Tradition' in J.W. Boyle (ed.), Leaders and Workers (Cork and Dublin, 1960

Richard Pankhurst, William Thompson (1755-1833): Pioneer Socialist (London, 1954 and 1991)


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