Socialist International 1895

Review of “Forerunners of Socialism” by Henry W Macrosty

Source: Fabian News, Henry W Macrosty, “Geschichte des Sozialismus” (review) November 1895, pp.35-36. (Thanks to Jean Ducange for this reference.) Macrosty was an economist and statistician who wrote frequently for the Fabian Society. This review is important as it is one of the two contemporary English reviews of the German book while Kautsky’s work on Thomas More was not translated until 1927 and the Bernstein one until 1930. See also The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, by E. Belfort Bax.

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Geschichte des Sozialismus: Die Vorläufer des Neueren Sozialismus 28 Parts at 20 pf. per part (Dietz, Stuttgart).

“The forerunners of later Socialism” is the first volume of a “History of Socialism,” which, when completed, will contain a full account of the movement in Europe. The contributors are K. Kautsky, Ed. Bernstein, P. Lafargue, and C. Hugo. Beginning with a somewhat insufficient sketch of Plato’s “Republic,” Kautsky traces the development of the Communist idea through early Christianity, in the Fathers, and in the monasteries. This early Socialism was different from the modern in that production was individualistic, and only consumption communistic. This was the natural outcome of the handwork system, but proved incompatible with family life. The various heretical sects revolting against the luxury of the Church always reverted to its early communism. An interesting history of the working-classes, especially of the guilds of journeymen in the Middle Ages, follows.

But the romance of the volume is the account of the Anabaptist movement. A series of heretical sects, all communist on their secular side – the Waldenses, the Apostolic Brethren, the Beghards, the Lollards, the Taborites, the Bohemian Brethren – had arisen and fallen, before the failure of the Peasants’ War brought into prominence the Anabaptist theories of non-resistance. Equally strong in their creed of adult baptism and their practice of communism, they were crushed by Church and State in Switzerland and Germany, but lived in peaceful activity in Bohemia and Moravia for nearly a century before 1620 – a long life for such communities. The carefully detailed account of this sect ought to clear away many of the lies of prejudiced historians, especially with regard to the siege of Munster. It is a valuable and important piece of work.

Bernstein’s history of “the Communistic and Democratic-Socialist movements in England during the 17th century” is equally interesting and careful. Not only is the story of John Lilburne and the Levellers narrated fully and impartially, but the “Diggers” or “True Levellers” for the first time find worthy mention. The chapter on Winstanley’s Utopia, “The Law of Freedom,” which Bernstein says that he has not found mentioned in any history, will repay study. It will doubtless surprise many to find the Quakers treated as forerunners of Socialism, yet it was in their ranks that Lilburne and Winstanley took refuge after the failure of their schemes. A description of the schemes and writings of John Bellers, the “advocate of the poor,” concludes this part.

Lafargue contributes almost too detailed an account of Campanella, the Utopist of the “City of the Sun,” and a description of the Jesuit rule in Paraguay. Dr. Hugo sketches the labor movement in France up to the revolution, and supplements the volume by a brief summary of the American Socialist communities, the survivals of the earlier religious communism.

Not even all the headings of this work of 887 pages have been summarized in this notice. The whole book is admirable, but Kautsky’s account of the Anabaptists and Bernstein’s sketch of the True Levellers remain most prominently in the memory.