In his hard-hitting and controversial book, George Watson examines the foundation texts of socialism to find out what they really say; the result is blasphemy against socialism’s canon of saints. Marx and Engels publicly advocated genocide in 1849; Ruskin called himself a violent Tory and a King’s man; and Shaw held the working classes in utter contempt. Drawing on an impressive range of sources from Robert Owen to Ken Livingstone, the author demonstrates that socialism was a conservative, nostalgic reaction to the radicalism of capitalism, and not always supposed to be advantageous to the poor. There have even been socialist monarchs – Napoleon III was one. Two chapters of the book study Hitler’s claim that “the whole of National Socialism” was based on Marx, and bring to light the common theoretical basis of the beliefs of Stalin and Hitler which led to death camps.
As a literary critic, George Watson’s concern is to pay proper respect to the works of the founding fathers of socialism, to attend to what they say and not what their modern disciples wish they had said. The dust grows thick on many of these tomes, while present-day socialists follow a few ossified slogans plucked selectively from the best-known books. Socialist ideas are now rescued from priggish and woolly-thinking moralists so that genuine debate can be revived.
This invigorating book forces the reader to abandon long-standing assumptions in political thought. It is certain to ruffle feathers, blue as well as red. This expanded Second Edition includes a new introduction and a new chapter on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
About the Author
George Watson was Fellow in English at St John’s College, Cambridge, and had been Sandars Reader in Bibliography. He published a number of books on literature and political thought, including The Literary Critics, and was general editor of the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. His other publications with the Lutterworth Press include: Never Ones for Theory? England and the War of Ideas (2001); The English Ideology: Studies on the Language of Victorian Politics (2004); Take Back the Past: Myths of the Twentieth Century (2007); The Story of the Novel (2008); and Heresies and Heretics: Memories of the Twentieth Century (2013). He died in 2013.
Note to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
1. A Literature Lost
2. Millar or Marx?
3. The Idea of Conservative Revolution
4. The Tory Tradition of Socialism
5. Tocqueville’s Burden of Liberty
6. The Forgotten French of 1848
7. Adolf Hitler
8. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
9. Marx and the Holocaust
10. George Orwell
11. The Great Amnesia
Endorsements and Reviews
A stimulating book and if it sparks genuine debate, it will have done much good.
George Watson’s stimulating contribution to the problems of political theory is most welcome. It is a pity it is not a longer book.
The Salisbury Review
George Watson has devoted many thoughtful hours to the problem of the crimes, privileges, and general behaviour of the socialist elite. He has succeeded in producing a startlingly simple explanation of the otherwise inexplicable. A fascinating, very readable book, filled with deeply satisfying quotations from the perpetrators themselves and their publicists. Lively and fascinating account of current forgetfulness.
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.
Antony Flew, in The Freeman
The merits of Watson’s book are its brevity, its admonition to socialists ignorant of what has been done in the name of their creed, and a few discoveries.
The Review of English Studies
I highly recommend Watson’s The Lost Literature of Socialism, especially to those socialists among us who wish to redistribute our lives, our property, and our futures. As a friend who has read it remarked, ‘there is a nugget on every page’.
Edward Cline, on Rule of Reason (blog), 12 May 2016