‘champagne socialist’: meanings and early occurrences

The derogatory phrase champagne socialist has two acceptations:
1-: A person who advocates equality for all people at a high level of prosperity—i.e., who believes in champagne for everybody, so to speak;
2-: A person who espouses socialist ideals while enjoying a wealthy lifestyle.—Cf. also chardonnay socialist, prosecco socialist, limousine liberal and parlour socialist.

The phrase champagne socialism, therefore, denotes:
1-: A theory which advocates equality for all people at a high level of prosperity;
2-: Socialism as espoused by people who enjoy a wealthy lifestyle.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences that I have found of champagne socialist and champagne socialism used with reference to equality for all people at a high level of prosperity:

1.1-: In contrast with beer socialist and beer socialism, champagne socialist and champagne socialism occur during a discussion about a hypothetical system of socialism, in Blind Alleys: A Novel of Nowadays (Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1906), by the U.S. author George Cary Eggleston (1839-1911):

Blake had Winifred Fair on one side and Count Strephoff on the other. Strephoff was a polyglot personage of uncertain nationality and an enormous conceit of himself. He called himself a socialist, an anarchist, or a nihilist, according to the company he happened to be in. Before the dinner was half over and in answer to one of his utterances, Winifred said to him:—
“You are a champagne socialist—not a beer socialist.”
“And precisely what do you mean by the distinction, my dear young lady?” he asked.
“Why, the beer socialist—I’ve met many of them on the East Side—wants everybody to come down to his low standards of living, so that all shall share alike in the world’s goods and be alike. The champagne socialist wants everybody to be equal upon the higher plane that suits him, utterly ignoring the fact that there are not enough champagne, green turtle, and truffles to go round. The beer socialist is the more reasonable of the two, I think […]”. Suddenly the girl became conscious that she was “almost making a speech,” as she afterward said, and she hesitated. “I don’t think I can explain,” she said, shrinking from further utterance.
“I think I can explain for you,” said the Rev. Dr. Hatcher, farther up the table. […] “Rag-time music wins and delights the multitude […]. Their taste is as truly their right as your taste or mine is our right. That is the sort of music that gives them pleasure, just as what we rather arrogantly call a ‘higher’ order of music delights us. Why should a champagne socialism rob them of rag-time and inflict Chopin or Verdi or Wagner upon them, any more than a beer socialism should compel us to give up grand opera and the Boston Symphony Concerts, and listen to rag-time instead? That last is what would very certainly happen if we were all compelled, for the sake of a so-called social equality, to submit to the rule of a majority in the choice of our music, as we must under a rule of state socialism. The beer socialists outnumber the champagne socialists ten or a hundred to one, and upon a popular vote for music to be furnished by the state at the public cost, rag-time would win overwhelmingly every time.”

1.2-: From They Told Tempo, published in The Sun-Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of Sunday 10th July 1983:

John Mortimer, British author and barrister: “I’m a champagne socialist. I believe in free champagne for all.”

1.3-: From a letter published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Monday 9th May 1988:

Although sharing the egalitarian views of Margaret Drabble (Agenda, May 2), I take issue with her suggestion that in an egalitarian society we should all be free “to choose better furniture, more various styles of architecture, less lethal three-piece suites,” and presumably, by implication, enjoy a better living standard and greater prosperity.
An equal division of the available “wealth” amongst the population must mean a reduction in possessions by the wealthy, and if extended to the worldwide population each individual’s share would probably be considerably less than that currently possessed by all but the poorest in the western world. The idea of “champagne socialism”—“champagne for everybody” ignores the fact that the world doesn’t have enough “champagne” to go round.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences that I have found of champagne socialist and champagne socialism used with reference to wealthy people who espouse socialist ideals:

2.1-: From the Manchester Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Monday 30th January 1956:

The “champagne Socialists” were attacked by Mr C. Osborne, M.P., at Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, on Saturday. “It is little short of fraud for them to pose as Labour,” he said, “when they have lived all their lives in the lap of luxury and have neither worked for a weekly wage, nor experienced poverty. They have grabbed control of the Socialist party and now seek power to boss the whole nation. For them to steal the label ‘Labour’ is perilously close to obtaining votes by false pretences.”

2.2-: From Digesting the serious weeklies, by ‘Ludgate’, published in The Birmingham Post (Birmingham, Warwickshire, England) of Monday 2nd September 1968—the following is about Paul Bede Johnson (born 1928), editor of the New Statesman from 1965 to 1970:

Sometimes, and rather unfairly, he is accused of being a champagne socialist.

Paul Johnson was then advocating socialism. The New Statesman defines itself as “the leading progressive political and cultural magazine in the United Kingdom”. It was founded in 1913 by the Fabian intellectuals Sidney Webb (1859-1947) and Beatrice Webb (née Potter – 1858-1943), with support from George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and Herbert George Wells (1866-1946).

Other occurrences:

From an interview of the English singer and songwriter John Lydon (born 1956), a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, published in the Evening Express (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) of Wednesday 7th May 1986:

The jobless, pointless life that afflicts so many of today’s young people is something that obviously infuriates Lydon, who believes the government only care for the very rich and that the Labour Party is unpredicatable [sic].
“All the Red Wedge people are champagne socialists,” he claimed. “If you vote Labour you don’t know what you’re getting.
“Don’t vote for anybody. Who needs that?”

From How DOES he get away with it all?, by Bob Burns, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Thursday 8th October 1987:

Champagne Socialist Derek Hatton 1 today explained his night out with banking family heiress Katie Baring at a West End restaurant where a caviar starter costs £50 and wine comes at £450 a bottle.
The talkative Trot, anxious to clear up any misunderstandings back in city where many families live on welfare benefits that add up to less than a Mayfair dinner bill, claimed it was one big freebie!

1 Derek Hatton (born 1948) had been expelled from the British Labour Party in 1986 for belonging to Militant, a Trotskyist group within the party; this group was organised around the newspaper Militant.

From Militant hits at Labour’s rising star, by Janine Watson, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Monday 9th November 1987:

Militant supremo Peter Taaffe 2 has revealed two faces of the secretive Trotsky sect at a public rally in Liverpool.
He hit at Labour’s rising star Bryan Gould 3 and condemned “champagne socialists.”
But in private press interviews he praised high-living Derek Hatton.

2 The Marxist political activist and journalist Peter Taaffe (born 1942) was the founding editor of Militant in 1964; he was expelled from the Labour Party in 1983.
3 The New Zealand-born British Labour politician Bryan Gould (born 1939) was at that time the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

From a letter published in the Evening Post (Reading, Berkshire, England) of Wednesday 8th July 1987:

Champagne socialism
On reading Mrs Fontaine’s letter (Postbag, July 1), I would point out that most people I have spoken to about this affair are Labour voters and have voted Labour for years.
I am not a Tory fanatic.
She should practise what she preaches and not what I call “Champagne Socialism”.
The longer she remains as a councillor proves that in Labour, as in the Tories, there are two sets of values—one for party members and one for the electorate.
Bamburgh Close, Whitley

This is the letter referred to by D. Gask, published in the Evening Post (Reading, Berkshire, England) of Wednesday 1st July 1987:

Don’t you dare resign, Margaret Singh.
The council Labour group, plus the local Labour party, gave you their overwhelming vote of confidence and that is good enough for me.
Please do not let a few Tory fanatics upset you for something your husband is supposed to have done.
There is bound to be a lot of back stabbing now Reading is Labour, but remember Margaret, if one looks into the Tory records since they have been in power, one will find not one but hundreds of lies and scandals that MPs should have resigned for but did not.
One in particular is now in a better job for putting his secretary in the family way.
You just keep up the good work you are doing towards getting people housed and continue fighting for more council houses.
We can do with thousands more houses, and maybe I can get one instead of living in the dump my wife and I have been living in for seven years.

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