The Lost Literature of Socialism

Article excerpt

The Lost Literature of Socialism

by George Watson

The Lutterworth Press . 1998 . 144 pages

* $50.00 cloth; $30.00 paperback

Reviewed by Antony Flew

The literature of socialism is lost only in the sense of not having been read for a very long time. George Watson has been re-reading this literature as a professional literary critic, with strong interests in both political affairs and the history of ideas. Many of his findings are astonishing. Perhaps for readers today the most astonishing of all is that "In the European century that began in the 1840s, from Engels' article of 1849 down to the death of Hitler, everyone who advocated genocide called himself a socialist and no conservative, liberal, anarchist or independent did anything of the kind." (The term "genocide" in Watson's usage is not confined to the extermination only of races or of ethnic groups, but embraces also the liquidation of such other complete human categories as "enemies of the people" and "the Kulaks as a class.")

Although Watson himself unfortunately never defines the key word "socialism," he is apparently following throughout the usage of the old British Labour Party. From its foundation, it proclaimed itself a socialist party and stated its aim in Clause IV of its constitutionthereafter printed on every membership cardas being "the public ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange."

Watson distinguishes three periods in the history of this socialist idea. The first, the Age of Conception, runs from the 1840s to the Bolshevik coup of 1917; the second, the Age of Fulfilment, continues until the Communist seizure of power in China in 1949; the third, the Age of Decline, continues until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

During the Age of Conception, many were attracted to socialism precisely because they already saw it as what Watson calls a "Tory project," a project necessarily involving rule by an irresponsible elite. Some of these elitists, such as the science fiction writer H.G. Wells and the dramatist Bernard Shaw, lived long enough into the Age of Fulfilment to welcome this aspect of the realization in the USSR of the socialist vision. Before World War I, other socialists, such as the novelist Jack London and the psychologist Havelock Ellis, saw socialism as leading both fortunately and necessarily to the triumph of the white races over the black and the brown.

For those of us born before World War II, the most interesting section of the book is that dealing with the intellectual relations between the teachings of Adolf Hitler and those of Marx and his professed followers among Hitler's contemporaries. …