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Book Reviews

The Up-to-date Fabian

(April 1931)

First Published: R.G. (Reg. Groves), Book Reviews, Labour Monthly, April 1931, pp. 252–253.
Editing, proofing & HTML markup: Ted Crawford and D. Walters in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.
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A History of Socialism
by R.S.F. Markham
Black Ltd., 7s. 6d.

R.S.F. MARKHAM, M.P., whose main title to fame so far seems to be that of a signatory to the recent Mosley Memorandum, has: written a history of socialism which seeks to outline for the general reader the origins and growth of Socialism in the chief countries of the world. The publishers inform us that “this book is intended to take the place of Kirkup’s history, for so many years the standard work.” That it is based on Kirkup is pathetically obvious.

The author’s typically Fabian point of view shows clearly throughout the book, colouring and distorting his history; in summing up the phases of socialism’s growth in every country he almost out-Fabians the Fabians:

Everywhere we find the same story — first one or two enthusiasts, then a slow process of organisation; premature attempts to attain parliamentary power, which generally end in defeat; then repressive laws and persecutions; at length, steady growth ... Finally, the Socialist party becomes the largest is the State and even captures supreme power ... Then comes the curious anti-climax — the opposing parties begin to fight socialism either by dictatorship or by socialism itself ... Socialism, by converting Conservative and Liberal Parties ... to its own programme can achieve its end. (p. 299. Our italics)

The class struggle, out of which has grown the working class movement, receives no attention. As a result the book is merely a collection of “facts” grouped around Mr. Markham’s conceptions of socialism and of society; the author dodges from country to country without adequate plan or sense of historical development; in no way offering a deeper and fuller knowledge of the rise of the international working class movement.

We have said that this book is merely a collection of “facts”; but even Mr. Markham’s “facts” are wrong in countless cases. We can only deal with a few of them.

The account of the early English movement is almost entirely devoted to Robert Owen; Chartism is only incidentally mentioned. The sole interest this movement has for Mr. Markham is that “in its organ the doctrine of ‘surplus value,’ afterwards elaborated by Marx as the basis of his system, is broadly and emphatically enunciated.” (p. 10) Of the relations between the Owenite Socialists and the proletarian Chartists; of the differing Socialist and Communist groups within the Chartist movement; of their relations to the working class as a whole, and to later Socialist thought, Mr. Markham says nothing. On page 177 he argues that the distinction between “Socialist” and “Communist” was first made in 1916 and that previously the words were interchangable! An examination of some of the Chartist “organs” of which he writes would have shown him that the distinction was very clear and sharp in the later stages of the Chartist movement.

The last page of this section on the early English Socialist Movement is devoted to the Christian Socialism of Maurice and Kingsley. Even on this subject Markham goes wrong; he links its origins with the effect of the “abortive Chartist demonstration” at Kennington, which, he writes, “excited in Maurice and his friends the deepest sympathy with the sufferings of English working class.” Actually the Christian Socialist movement was under discussion before April 10; only when the Christian Socialists thought Chartism was broken did they venture into the open. As for Maurice’s “sympathy,” what a pity Mr. Markham does not mention that this “Socialist” offered his services as “special constable” on the very occasion of the April 10 demonstration!

Markham describes the Social Democratic Federation as a Marxist revolutionary organisation unable to attract the workers for that reason. He puffs the Fabians, who, he thinks, made progress because they rejected Marx, and “the revolutionary method which was then considered indispensable.”

His story of the rise of the Labour Party gives much space to its “difficulties” just prior to the war when it was supporting the Liberal Government; and shows his disapproval of the Party’s critics. Syndicalism, the Daily Herald, and the great pre-war strike movement receive no attention at all! The Victor Grayson election of 1908 is mentioned, but nothing is said of the Labour Party’s attitude to Grayson and to independent Socialist candidates. Either ignorance or impudence permits him to write:

In these pre-war days it may be truly said that to the electorate the Labour Socialist movement presented a fairly solid front.

The failure to understand the class-struggle is revealed most clearly in the treatment of the International Socialist Movement in relation to the World War. The war is described as “spreading confusion in the ranks of labour,” and the comment on the support for war-credits by the German Social Democrats is “The great betrayal had begun.” Markham fails to show that the betrayal had its beginning in the Lib-Lab class-collaboration policy approved of then, and now more than ever, by Mr. Markham and his political associates.

The German Revolution is dealt with in a very unsatisfactory way; and there is undisguised approval of the success of the Social Democrats in defeating the revolution and restoring order for capitalism. Liebknecht receives mention for his stand against the war: his part in the Revolution and his fate at the hands of the Social Democrats are tactfully omitted.

Even Mrs. Markham, whose historical work was so beloved of our grandmothers, never rose to such heights of exquisite idiocy as Mr. Markham achieves in writing of the Paris Commune. He actually writes:

In 1870 the adherents of the Paris Commune or Town Council were called Communists when really they were Municipal Home Rulers. (p. 177)

In dealing with the Commune, Markham mentions Marx’s Civil War in France: the German edition! Can it be possible that Mr. Markham does not know that this great piece of writing was written by Marx in English and is still available in our own tongue?

In the section headed The Post-War International, nine pages are devoted to the Labour and Socialist International and only three to the Communist International: of these three, nearly a page is given to Dr. Adler’s remarks on the impossibility of unity between the two internationals. In this same section nearly three pages are given to the International Labour Office, described as “one of the finest indirect achievements of Socialist thought throughout the world”!

This is how Mr. Markham writes history; his way of making it is to sign the Mosley Manifesto.


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