“Looking Backward 2000-1887” was a socialist utopian science fiction story written by Edward Bellamy and published in 1888. In that novel, Bellamy described a National Socialism whose vision changed the course of history. Looking Backward found a massive audience from its publication in 1888 through the 1920s.
Many readers may think my focusing on a book written in 1888 to be a quaint historical side show. They may say, “I’ve never heard of it. What does it matter today? Why waste your time refuting its ideas?”
The short answer is: Because ideas matter.
A person’s worldview changes the course of their life. And a society’s worldview changes the course of history. One of the most common political questions I hear today is, “What’s wrong with Socialism?” And there is little more important than answering that question decisively.
You may not have heard of Edward Bellamy, but you probably have heard of Mao Zeadong, Leon Tolstoy, Benito Mussolini, and Adolph Hitler. They each have a clear line of influence to Bellamy’s work.
When there were only three channels on television, a popular television show could capture the attention of a greater percentage of the entire nation and have everyone talking about it the next day at the water cooler. In 1888, books could do that.
Looking Backward was one of the most popular books in the United States. Its popularity had a slower build as word of the book had to spread through newspaper reviews and word of mouth. Hundreds of salons were formed to discuss the book and how its vision might be implemented. It sold 210,000 copies in its first year and 500,000 by the end of 1891. Far more people in history read Looking Backward than ever read Marx. It inspired a generation of those with socialist tendencies not just here in the United States, but also around the world.
In a previous article, we looked at a false appeal to Nordic countries supposedly being socialist. On Tuesday, August 13, 2019, David John Marotta appeared on Radio 1070 WINA’s Schilling Show to examine the socialist movements that Looking Backward actually inspired.
Listen to the audio here:
Needing no translation, Looking Backward was widely read in Great Britain. It first appeared in serial form in a monthly magazine called Brotherhood. But before the serialization was complete it had been published by William Reeves. By the end of 1889, Reeves had issued seventeen reprints of the book. Two other publishers issued editions. The book was widely discussed in British political circles and interest in Bellamy resulted in the publication of many of his other writings. Dozens of books were written and published imitating, elaborating, or contradicting the ideas in Looking Backward.
Bellamy’s popularity resulted in the formation of clubs and the founding of the Nationalization of Labor Society. The publication the Nationalization News announced on its cover that it was “established to promote the system proposed in Looking Backward.”
William Morris reviewed Looking Backward in the Commonweal journal in 1890 disagreeing with Bellamy’s preferences of what a socialist state would look like. Morris then wrote his own vision of the socialist utopia, News from Nowhere, publishing it in serial form in the Commonweal journal. According to Wikipedia:
In the novel, the narrator, William Guest, falls asleep after returning from a meeting of the Socialist League and awakes to find himself in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. This agrarian society functions simply because the people find pleasure in nature, and therefore they find pleasure in their work.
“Utopia” literally means “Nowhere.” News from Nowhere being Morris’ vision of a socialist utopia. News from Nowhere mixed Marxism with the romance tradition popular in Victorian England at the time. News from Nowhere influenced not only Great Britain, but was also widely translated and disseminated around the world. For those who preferred Morris’ vision over Bellamy’s, it provided another method by which people could be converted to socialism.
In 1891, Oscar Wild published his own book, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, which reacted to both Morris and Bellamy.
Looking Backward also received an enthusiastic reception in the Fellowship of the New Life and the Fabian Society of Great Britain. The New Fellowship’s first publication reviewed Looking Backward and during 1889 and 1890 the Fellowship discussed Bellamy’s ideas in detail.
H.G. Wells arrived in London during the time when Bellamy was a sensation in London and joined the Fabian Society. He published “The Time Machine” in 1895 casting British politics into the far future. In 1899, he published “When the Sleeper Wakes” telling a similar tale in which his sleeper wakes after two hundred years to find that mechanization has changed the structure of society. And in 1905 Wells published “A Modern Utopia” in which he acknowledges Bellamy.
The list of British converts to socialism or similarly moved as a result of Bellamy’s book is large. Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution with Darwin, turned his attention to politics in the 1880s. In 1908, he wrote in his autobiography, “My Life: A Record of Events and Opinion“:
The book that thus changed my outlook on this question was Bellamy’s Looking Backward. On a first meeting I was captivated by the wonderfully realistic style of the work, the extreme ingenuity of the conception, the absorbing interest of the story, and the logical power with which the possibility of such a stated of society as that depicted was argued and its desirability enforced. Every sneer, every objection, every argument I had ever read against socialism was here met and shown to be absolutely trivial or altogether baseless, which the inevitable results of such a social state in giving to every human being the necessaries, the comforts, the harmless luxuries, and the highest refinements and social enjoyments of life were made equally clear.
From this time I declared myself a socialist.
Wallace was just one of many converts. George Bernard Shaw was also influenced by Bellamy. At first Shaw discounted Bellamy’s popularity, but after reading Looking Backward for himself it influenced everything from “Man and Superman” (1903) to “Androcles and the Lion” (1912).
Looking Backward influenced so many thinkers in Great Britain, it could be said that this book gave rise to much of the energy behind the rise of the British welfare state reforms during 1906 to 1914. At a minimum, Bellamy popularized the movement among the rank and file of the Labor movement.
In Japan, Looking Backward was translated by Sakai Toshihiko and titled Hyakunengo no Shin Shakai or The New Society a Hundred Years On. In John Crump’s book “The Origins of Socialist Thought in Japan” he explains:
Sakai Toshihiko’s own remarks are revealing in this respect. In a survey of socialist literature available in Japan, which was included in the first issue of Shakaishugi Kenkyu (The Study of Socialism), Sakai recommended his own translation of Bellamy as a good introduction to ‘socialism’.
Abe Iso, another prominent Japanese socialist, also credits Bellamy with his conversion. Again from Crump’s book:
Abe Iso was already a clergyman when, at the age of 26 in 1891, he went to study for three years at Hartford Theological Seminary in the USA. When he returned to Japan in 1895, it was not only as a Christian but as a socialist too. According to Abe’s recollections, Edward Bellamy’s immensely popular novel, Looking Backward had a stunning impact on him when he read it as a student at Hartford in 1893. … As far as Abe was concerned, it was Looking Backward which ‘finally made me a socialist’.
Bellamy’s work also influenced Sanzō Nosaka who went on to found the Japanese Communist Party. As Wikipedia reports:
Nosaka became interested in communism after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. As a greater volume of leftist literature entered Japan from the West, Nosaka’s political orientation moved farther from the center. The first Western texts on revolutionary social theory available in Japan were mostly on anarchism, but Nosaka also enjoyed Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel, Looking Backward. In 1918-1919 Nosaka read an English copy of The Communist Manifesto brought to Japan by his friend, Shinzo Koizumi. After reading The Communist Manifesto, Nosaka embraced the theories of Marxism.
He traveled to Britain in 1919 to study political economy, where he deepened his studies of Marxism and became a confirmed communist. Nosaka was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but his activity within British communist circles led to him being deported from Britain in 1921.
After leaving Britain, Nosaka traveled through the Soviet Union (USSR). He returned to Japan in 1922, where he co-founded the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).
Nosaka worked with Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and Joseph Stalin as a representative of the Japanese Communist Party and an agent of Communist International. His work had a profound effect. After World War II, he led the Japanese Communist Party within Japan to receive 10% of the popular vote and seats in the Diet, Japan’s bicameral legislature. He himself was elected to the House of Councillors, the upper legislative house. This legacy continues today with the Japanese Communist Party being the largest non-governing communist party in the world. As of 2019, the Japanese Communist Party holds 26 seats in the Japanese Diet.
Looking Backward was translated and published in a Chinese magazine format. The story was extremely popular in China and influenced Kang Youwei who went on to write a Chinese version entitled Da Tong Shu or The Book of Great Unity. According to Wikipedia in Da Tong Shu,
Kang proposed a utopian future world free of political boundaries and democratically ruled by one central government. In his scheme, the world would be split into rectangular administrative districts, which would be self-governing under a direct democracy but loyal to a central world government.
There would also be the dissolution of racial boundaries. Kang outlines an immensely ambitious eugenics program that would eliminate the “brown and black” racial phenotype after a millennia and lead to the emergence of a fair-skinned homogeneous human race whose members would “be the same color, the same appearance, the same size, and the same intelligence.”
His desire to end the traditional Chinese family structure defines him as an early advocate of women’s independence in China. He reasoned that the institution of the family practiced by society since the beginning of time was a great cause of strife. Kang hoped it would be effectively abolished.
The family would be replaced by state-run institutions, such as womb-teaching institutions, nurseries and schools. Marriage would be replaced by one-year contracts between a woman and a man. Kang considered the contemporary form of marriage, in which a woman was trapped for a lifetime, to be too oppressive. Kang believed in equality between men and women and that there should be no social barrier barring women from doing whatever men can do.
Kang saw capitalism as an inherently evil system. He believed that government should establish socialist institutions to overlook the welfare of each individual. At one point, he even advocated that government should adopt the methods of “communism” although it is debated what Kang meant by this term. He was surely one of the first advocates of Western communism in China.
When the book was first published, it was received with mixed reactions. … [Some] believed that Kang was a bold and daring protocommunist, who advocated modern Western socialism and communism. Amongst the latter was Mao Zedong, who admired Kang Youwei and his socialist ideals in the Da Tongshu.
Modern Chinese scholars now often take the view that Kang was an important advocate of Chinese socialism.
In the First Sino-Japanese War, China was defeated by Japan in 1895 and forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoskei. In that treaty, Japan gained Taiwan and Liaodon, and China was force to pay reparations. Combined with growing political thoughts of Kang Youwei and others, this gave rise to the first modern Chinese politics and a failed Hundred Day’s Reform movement. These harsh political realities caused many in China to believe that they too should pursue a Nationalist Socialism to counter Japan’s Nationalism.
Looking Backward was popular in Russia as well as the United States and its influence helped bring about the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union.
As Ronnie Dugger describes for CommonWealth magazine:
In Russia, Tolstoy called Looking Backward “exceedingly remarkable,” heavily marking his copy, Lenin’s future wife read the book, Gorky claimed that every student was acquainted with Bellamy’s ideas, and 50,000 copies were sold before 1917.
Tolstoy’s copy is currently preserved in the library of his country estate in Yannaya Polyana. Tolstoy also secured an acquaintance to translate it and pushed his publisher to publish it. Seven subsequent Russian translations were published including Georgian, Hebrew, and Lithuanian. The popularity of Looking Backward resulted in many of Bellamy’s other writings to be published and widely circulated in Russia.
According to “Edward Bellamy Abroad” by Sylvia E. Bowman,
In 1906, during the time of the First Revolution, M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky, Russian bourgeois economist, wrote that Bellamy’s book “was more effective propaganda of the ideas of socialism among the broad masses than any other book during the past thirty years.” …
Tugan-Baranovsky stated that, in his opinion, Looking Backward had accomplished a great deal also in removing prejudices against socialism and, therefore, in promoting the growth on a worldwide scale of the socialist movement.
Edward Bellamy wrote a sequel to Looking Backward entitled “Equality” which was also popular in Russia. In “An American Utopia and Its Global Audiences: Transnational Perspectives on Looking Backward,” Carl Guarneri writes:
The “Parable of the Water Tank,” a pseudo-biblical story that Bellamy inserted into Equality, was read as an allegory of Marx’s theory of surplus value and an indictment of worker exploitation under capitalism. Produced in pamphlet form, the “Parable” proved tremendously popular during the Russian Revolution of 1905. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Soviet authorities distributed over 250,000 copies (Nikoljukin 71-73).
Looking Backward inspired a few Russian flavored utopian socialist novels which were in themselves popular: In the World of the Future by N. N. Shelonsky (1891), Fifty Years Later by Sharapov (1902) and A Thousand Years Hence by V. D. Nikolsky (1927).
Bellamy even influenced many of the small details of Soviet society. One of the ideas of Looking Backward included the idea of shared resources including a public kitchen:
“There is none to do,” said Mrs. Leete, to whom I had addressed this question. “Our washing is all done at public laundries at excessively cheap rates, and our cooking at public kitchens. The making and repairing of all we wear are done outside in public shops. Electricity, of course, takes the place of all fires and lighting. We choose houses no larger than we need, and furnish them so as to involve the minimum of trouble to keep them in order. We have no use for domestic servants.”
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, this idea was adopted by Soviet housing planners. As they built apartments for the workers, they could reduce the size of each apartment to 9 square meters per person by consolidating all of the kitchens into a shared space. As NPR reports:
The reason Soviet authorities considered kitchens and private apartments dangerous to the regime was because they were places people could gather to talk about politics.
“The most important part of kitchen politics in early Soviet time was they would like to have houses without kitchens,” says Genis. “Because kitchen is something bourgeois. Every family, as long as they have a kitchen, they have some part of their private life and private property.”
We abbreviate the name of the Soviet Union to the USSR. But the USSR stands for “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” And the USSR considered itself a national socialist movement.
The United States
Edward Bellamy’s cousin, Francis Bellamy was, according to Wikipedia, “an American Christian socialist minister and author, best known for writing the original version of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.” Both Bellamys were National Socialists, advocating for prioritizing national concerns over those of the individual and national control of the economy. His original pledge, written in 1892, became the framework for the pledge of allegiance we say today:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Francis Bellamy was a strong advocate of the public education movement. He viewed the pledge as an important part of the indoctrination of children against individual allegiances and toward collectivist loyalties. The pledge was designed as part of a flag raising ceremony, also designed by Bellamy. It was endorsed and supported by educational committees and the immediate past president of the National Education Association (NEA).
When children were to say “to the Flag” during the pledge, they were to stretch their arms toward the flag in what later morphed into the Nazi salute. At the end of the pledge, they were to drop their arms to their sides. Francis Bellamy describes this salute in great detail, and it became known as the Bellamy salute.
Francis Bellamy’s version of the pledge of allegiance purposefully did not mention the United States of America because he wanted the pledge to be adopted by other countries. Francis Bellamy wanted to spread military socialism worldwide. To that end, he formed the World Youth Congress and, in 1901, traveled to Rome and met with King Victor Emmanuel III, the man who would ultimately appoint Benito Mussolini as the Prime Minister of Italy.
This salute was popularized in the film Ben-Hur (1907) and other films as a Roman salute. From there is was adopted by the Italian Fascist party in 1923 and then by the Nazi party when they took power in Germany in 1933.
Mindlessly chanting obedience to the state collective was enforced in schools in the United States with corporal punishment. In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a public school could force students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag and say the pledge despite their religious objections in the case of Minersville School District v. Gobitis in an 8-1 decision. The court concluded that “national unity is the basis of national security” and the ceremony was important “to promote in the minds of children who attend the common schools an attachment to the institutions of their country.”
It wasn’t until December 22, 1942, well into World War 2, that the United States Congress changed the Bellamy salute to putting your hand over your heart.
And it wasn’t until 1943 that the Supreme Court reversed itself in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in a 6-3 decision and ruled that the state did not have the power to compel speech.
Georges Sorel was a French philosopher whose works inspired socialists, anarchists, Marxists, and Fascists. Sorel read Bellamy’s Looking Backward. In 1906, Sorel wrote “Reflections on Violence” in which he referred to Looking Backward as, “the senseless hopes which the utopians have always held up before the dazzled eyes of the people.”
Sorel is responsible for the philosophy of syndicalism, a movement for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to worker’s unions. The name comes from the french word for trade union, “syndicat.” He believed that Bellamy’s vision of a gradual drift into socialism was unrealistically utopian and more would be required to move the masses. In Sorel’s estimation, it would require myth and violence.
Wikipedia describes Sorel’s philosophy:
Sorel’s was a voluntarist Marxism: he rejected those Marxists who believed in inevitable and evolutionary change, emphasizing instead the importance of will and preferring direct action. These approaches included general strikes, boycotts, and constant disruption of capitalism with the goal being to achieve worker control over the means of production. Sorel’s belief in the need for a deliberately conceived “myth” to sway crowds into concerted action was put into practice by mass fascist movements in the 1920s. The epistemic status of the idea of “myth” is of some importance, and is essentially that of a working hypothesis, with one fundamental peculiarity: it is an hypothesis which we do not judge by its closeness to a “Truth”, but by the practical consequences which stem from it. Thus, whether a political myth is of some importance or not must be decided, in Sorel’s view, on the basis of its capacity to mobilize human beings into political action;
Sorel’s justification of violence in the name of the collective and the value of myth to move people to action regardless of its truth value have been staples of collectivist thought ever since. Both are based on the idea that moving people to action in the class struggle is what will bring about the socialist order.
Sorel’s ideas about myths are particularly interesting. He believed that those who live in the world of myths are “secure from refutation” and therefore cannot be discouraged from “the activity, the sentiments and the ideas of the masses as they prepare themselves to enter on a decisive struggle.” Those who cannot overcome these myths of socialism will be swept away by the impulses of mass movements.
Sorel’s Reflections on Violence was translated into Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese, and English.
The popularity of Looking Backward inspired decades of futurist stories supporting or contradicting Bellamy’s socialist vision. By 1909, Futurism in Italy reached its zenith with the publication of the “Manifesto of Futurism” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. According to Wikipedia:
[Italian Futurism] was a rejection of the past and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth and industry. … In article 9, war is defined as a necessity for the health of human spirit, a purification that allows and benefits idealism. Their explicit glorification of war and its “hygienic” properties influenced the ideology of fascism.
Marinetti was very active in early fascist politics. Among the most optimistic authors of Italian Futurism was Ulisse Grifoni, in whose works humanity reached Mars and established socialism.
The Bellamy cousins, Italian Futurism, and Georges Sorel all laid the cultural foundation that brought about Benito Mussolini.
Fascism was started in Italy by Benito Mussolini. Fascism was based on the idea that the economy was there to serve national interests rather than individual interests. The term Fascism comes from the Italian word “fasci” which means “a bundle of sticks” representing the idea that a society is stronger together than it would be as individuals. Fascism is, at its core, a collectivist philosophy.
Mussolini has been quoted as saying, “I owe most to Georges Sorel. This master of syndicalism by his rough theories of revolutionary tactics has contributed most to form the discipline, energy and power of the fascist cohorts.” Similarly Sorel said of his disciple Mussolini, “[Mussolini is] a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin. . . not a socialist from the bourgeoisie; he never believed in parliamentary socialism.”
With the addition of violence as a means to an end, Mussolini’s brand of Italian Fascism was very similar to Bellamy’s nationalistic socialism. Today, we use the term fascism. This allows modern socialists to distance themselves from the Fascist and Nazi regimes and rewrite history by categorizing these regimes “radical right-wing movements.” But if today’s right-wing is categorized by a commitment to individual rights, capitalist economics, and libertarian politics, Italian Fascism was the opposite.
Democracy in Italy was suppressed partly on the justification of manufactured crisis and emergencies. In 1918, Mussolini made passionate speeches arguing that only a powerful central leader could cut through the political deadlock and solve the problems of Italy’s economic malaise and unemployment.
Toward the end of 1921, Mussolini declared:
Tomorrow, Fascists and communists, both persecuted by the police, may arrive at an agreement, sinking their differences until the time comes to share the spoils. I realize that though there are no political affinities between us, there are plenty of intellectual affinities. Like them, we believe in the necessity for a centralized and unitary state, imposing an iron discipline on everyone, but with the difference that they reach this conclusion through the idea of class, we through the idea of the nation.
In other words, although the precise argument differs, Mussolini sees the basic goals of communists and fascists as both overlapping in socialism.
In 1934, Mussolini is quoted as saying:
Fascism establishes the real equality of individuals before the nation… the object of the regime in the economic field is to ensure higher social justice for the whole of the Italian people… What does social justice mean? It means work guaranteed, fair wages, decent homes, it means the possibility of continuous evolution and improvement. Nor is this enough. It means that the workers must enter more and more intimately into the productive process and share its necessary discipline… As the past century was the century of capitalist power, the twentieth century is the century of power and glory of labour.
In 1923, the Fascist Salute became part of a mandatory flag ritual in Italian schools similar to that in the United States.
The United States, again
In the United States, Looking Backward experienced a resurgence during the early 1930’s Great Depression. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt complied the articles and speeches given during his campaign, he titled the book “Looking Forward” in reference to Bellamy’s book.
Looking Backward also had a great influence on the Roosevelt administration borrowing many of its major New Deal accomplishments from that fictional work and also from the politics of Mussolini. James Q. Whitman explains how in “Of Corporatism, Fascism and the First New Deal.”
Early in the autumn of 1934, after several weeks of bureaucratic intrigue within the Roosevelt White House, General Hugh Johnson was forced to resign as chief of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). For some months, the President had resisted pressure to dismiss Johnson, who had presided over the NRA in erratic and impolite fashion. But in late September, after several instances of egregious misbehavior on Johnson’s part, the President pushed him out. A few weeks later, General Johnson gave his farewell speech, invoking the “shining name” of Benito Mussolini. It was not the first time that the director of the NRA, who was widely rumored to have fascist inclinations, had spoken glowingly of Italian practices. Nor was General Johnson alone in the early New Deal years. A startling number of New Dealers had kind words for Mussolini. Rexford Tugwell spoke of the virtues of the Italian fascist order. So did internal NRA studies. And the President himself expressed interest in bringing the programs of “that admirable Italian gentleman” to America. …
In the presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980, Ronald Regan raised a storm of protest by asserting that New Dealers had admired the Italian Fascists.
For those enamored by National Socialism, Fascist Italy served as a populist example to be followed and served to rekindle interest in Bellamyism. Looking Backward experienced a resurgence during the early 1930’s Great Depression. According to James J. Kopp’s “Edward Bellamy and the New Deal: The Revival of Bellamyism in the 1930s.” (Utopian Studies, no. 4, 1991, pp. 10–16. JSTOR):
It was Bellamy’s widow and his daughter who were the central figures in the renewed movement advocating the program of Nationalism in the 1930s. … In 1934, on the thirty-sixth anniversary of Bellamy’s death, these two women and several other prominent followers of Bellamy’s vision broadcast a radio program dealing with the topic of Nationalism. And also in 1934, Marion Bellamy Earnshaw gave a lecture tour in California with “Edward Bellamy Today” as the subject.
Largely due to the support and correspondence of Mrs. Bellamy and Mrs. Earnshaw, an International Bellamy League was organized in the 1930s with clubs formed in such countries as New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Uruguay. …
Two editions of Looking Backward were published in 1933 and portions of Equality were reprinted in such popular periodicals of the day as the Golden Book.
Popular media portrays Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany as demonic cults of pure evil, but such characterizations are unhelpful in understanding politics. Rather than understanding the popular appeal of Fascist and Nazi we use the terms as name calling in ad hominem attacks. Today, whenever terms such as Fascist or Nazi are used it stops conversation.
These were incredibly popular movements with a large percentage of the population supporting their aims. There are many parallels today and lessons to be learned. In the end they were discredited and had few ardent supporters. But we would like to avoid getting to the end of that particular story. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
In Italy, Fascist Black Shirts acted as autonomous, militant groups and individuals to take direct action and violence to harass their identified opposition without bothering with elections or consensus. Today’s Antifa in the United States, supposedly an anti-fascist organization, uses, as described by Wikipedia, similar tactics:
The antifa movement is composed of left-wing, autonomous, militant anti-fascist groups and individuals in the United States. The principal feature of antifa groups is their use of direct action, with conflicts occurring both online and in real life. They engage in varied protest tactics, which include digital activism, property damage, physical violence, and harassment against those whom they identify as fascist, racist, or on the far-right.
Activists involved in the movement tend to be anti-capitalists and subscribe to a range of ideologies, typically on the left. They include anarchists, socialists and communists along with some liberals and social democrats. Their stated focus is on fighting far-right and white supremacist ideologies directly, rather than through electoral means.
Our city of Charlottesville, now a political rallying cry, was the site of unchecked violence of protestors and antifa anti-protestors on August 12, 2017. Anyone suggesting that there weren’t bad actors on both sides of that conflict doesn’t understanding the fascist behavior of the antifa movement. Matt Pearce writing for The Los Angeles Times recounts the violence done by both sides in “Who was responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Here’s what witnesses say.” Sara Ganim and Christ Welch writing for CNN chronicles how the antifa justify violence and believe that their violence is morally justified in the article, “Unmasking the leftist Antifa movement.” The Wall Street Journal chronicled the lack of police action against antifa violence in “Portland’s Antifa Impunity: No one has been charged in the assault on journalist Andy Ngo.” And the Schilling Show provided eye-witnesses describing the events of that day. Many liberal politicians failed to be critical of the antifa’s actions and excoriated President Trump for his comments.
Antifa Sacramento is a collective of antifascists who have come together to disrupt fascist activity in the Sacramento area. We oppose the power structures of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism, and strive to dismantle all systems and groups that promote, reinforce, and foster prejudice and oppression.
Looking Backward was published in 1888 and in November of that year Edward Bellamy personally made a contract with an interpreter to translate his book into German.
Mussolini and Italian Fascism paved the way for Nazi Germany. As described by School History:
Hitler was a great admirer of Mussolini especially in his early years as leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), which was basically the Nazi Party. Hitler especially admired Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’, which was a protest in 1922 that saw thousands of fascists and fascist supporters walk to the Italian capital in order to force Mussolini’s appointment as prime minister. They succeeded. Hitler first wrote to Mussolini about the ‘March on Rome’ in 1923. In an attempt to emulate Mussolini, Hitler staged the Munich putsch. The Nazis were given some financial support by Mussolini from the late 1920s. The Sturmabteilung, which was a paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, benefited from this as their brigade was allowed to train with his own paramilitary brigade, the Blackshirts. When Hitler finally ascended into power in the 1930 German election, he was publicly praised by Mussolini, who hailed it as a victory for his own fascist ideology. He began giving Hitler advice on tactics.
We abbreviate the name “Nazi Germany.” But the full name is “The National Socialist Germany Workers’ Party.” It is a direct thought child of the Bellamy cousin’s National Socialism.
The supposed fact-checking site Snopes.com has a long and convoluted entry on “Were the Nazis Socialists?” In that article they admit that Hitler considered himself a “dedicated socialist” and in a 1927 speech declared, “We are socialists. We are the enemies of today’s capitalist system of exploitation … and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”
The Snopes.com article dismisses the claims and aims of the Nazi Party as it was rising to power arguing that they were not really sincere. They weren’t really committed to socialism. And they were just saying things they did not mean in order to seize power. The article also argues that since Nazi Party leaders abused their power and did not, in fact, institute the egalitarian utopia that socialism promises, they weren’t really socialists.
This type of reasoning is common among those trying to defend socialism. No socialist wants to accept the failed economics or human rights atrocities that result from trying to implement socialism. Socialism assumes that you will have well-intentioned, altruistic, and restrained leaders in positions of immense power consistently acting benevolently and wisely. If that utopian implementation was not the case, the Snopes article argues, it wasn’t really socialism.
Despite socialist political experiments being run dozens of times in the modern age, defenders of socialism appear unwilling to examine the historical evidence objectively and accept the results.
I would argue that anytime you advocate government having greater control of the economy you are setting yourself up for some of the worst leaders rising to power. The use of force is required if you actually want to force your version of an egalitarian utopia on society. And people willing to do that make some of the worst leaders.
The tenth chapter in F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” is entitled, “Why the Worst Get on Top.” In that chapter, Hayek explains that even if a leader’s ideals are admirable, legislated conformity can only be created with force. The only way to stop nonconformists from disobedience is the use of government force against them. This is why dedicated liberals end up as some of the worst dictators. As Hayek suggests, “socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove.”
By the criteria of the Snopes article, any failed implementation of socialism would be disqualified from being called socialist. So of course the Nazi regime couldn’t have been socialist despite their statements, ideals, and politics.
The Snopes.com article even had the audacity to suggest, as though it were a settled fact:
The Nazi problem comes down to this: As an ultra-nationalist, socially conservative, anti-egalitarian and fascist ideology, Nazism naturally falls on the extreme far-right end of the political spectrum
The far-right end of the political spectrum would be a commitment to individual liberties, property rights, and a small and restrained government. Such an ideology would be the exact opposite of the nationalistic socialism preached and implemented by the Nazi Party in Germany.
The link between Bellamy and Nazi Germany is described in “Edward Bellamy Abroad” by Sylvia E. Bowman,
During the period in which Hitler’s Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterparei was rising to power, some Germans – usually socially inclined but anti-Marxist bourgeois – thought at first that the National-Socialist German Worker’s Party would be a version of the American Nationalist movement as outlined by Bellamy since its program had certain superficial similarities to it. These comparable plans included the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the compulsory labor force which everyone had to join after his education had been complete; the Volkgemeinschaft, the formation of a classes society which combined the arbeitsfront (workers) and the stirne und faust (intellectuals and investors); and the appeal for a unified, patriotic, collectivist society to solve the social problems which existed.
Many Bellamy fans were appalled with the National Socialists in Germany by the end of World War II. But their support helped bring that National Socialist movement to Germany.
I have left out the extensive impact Bellamy had on several other national politics including Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Canada, and others.
Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward was an integral part of the flow of history in the rise of national socialism. His work and the work of his cousin Francis Bellamy influenced the course and shape of the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany.
About 62 million people were killed under the The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. About 49 million people were killed under the People’s Republic of China. About 21 million people were killed under The National Socialist Germany Workers’ Party rule. In the idyllic utopia of socialism everyone is in agreement. In reality socialists end up killing everyone who disagrees.
To blame Edward Bellamy for the murder of 132 million people is not appropriate. The choice of violence to implement socialism may be inevitable, but it is still the blame of those acting violently and not to be blamed on Bellamy. But similarly, we should not downplay his role in the rise of centralized nationalistic governments. And we should learn the cause and effect lessons of what happens when we centralize the economic power of millions in the hands of a few politicians. We should anticipate the inevitable betrayal of socialist ideas for socialist violence and strive to avoid any such concentration of power.
Looking Backward cast a mythic vision of a bright hopeful future in which the constraints of human nature no longer limited the socialist vision of utopia. It moved hearts and minds, ultimately moving nations and history. But after World War II, Bellamy’s book was increasingly viewed as a precursor to the actual socialist states it helped inspire and it lost favor.
Photo of children performing the Bellamy salute to the flag of the United States from 1941 and in the public domain.