Heath and Debs: America’s awakening to socialism began with Edward Bellamy
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Posted on Saturday, March 23, 2013 11:21:19 AM by ProgressingAmerica
The Social Democratic Party, the precursor to the SPA, the Socialist Party of America, had several important figures in it. This old illustration from 1900 places the point very well:
Laurence Gronlund has said that in 1880 he could count the native born American Socialists on the fingers of one hand. Had the foreign born residents suddenly left the country they would have practically taken Socialism with them. In 1880 Judge Thomas Hughes, the Christian Socialist, founded a profit-sharing, semi-communistic colony at New Rugby, in the Cumberland mountains of Tennessee, and delivered several lectures in the larger cities. A year later this colony had nearly 300 members and enjoyed a short-lived prosperity.
The American awakening to Socialism began with the appearance of Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” in 1888, although in 1884 Laurence Gronlund’s “Co-operative Commonwealth” was the first book to place the new theory before American readers in a popular way. This had a very fair sale and set many prominent men to thinking along new lines – and among them probably the novelist Edward Bellamy himself.
“Looking Backward” was not at all scientific in its conception of Socialism or the probable Socialistic state, but it came as a great message to the American people, nevertheless, and its success was phenomenal. In the succeeding few years over 600,000 copies were sold and for a time it had a record of sales of over 1,000 a day. Still it must be noted that the word Socialism nowhere appeared in the book. Bellamy and his converts at once organized clubs, which, with a cowardice that was perhaps justified, they called Nationalist clubs, and they persisted in calling their Socialism Nationalism.
In quoting America’s Fabians, I wrote about this last August: “”Nationalism” is how socialism was introduced to the American people”. (My point is not to pat myself on the back, but rather to highlight that the Fabians are in agreement about the significance of Bellamy, his book, and the Nationalist Clubs) In both instances, you can see the hat tip to the fact that Bellamy didn’t call it Socialism. He called it Nationalism, and there’s clearly a broad belief that this is an important reason why it became successful.
It should be noted, that………..