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CARL J. GUARNERI
Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy‟s socialist utopia of 1888, has been celebrated as an American bestseller and has been extensively analyzed in relation to late nineteenthcentury American culture and society.1 Much less discussed, although well documented, is the fact that Bellamy‟s novel enjoyed a huge success beyond America‟s borders. While Looking Backward took its final shape as “a romance of the ideal nation,” Bellamy intended it as “a romance of an ideal world” (Bellamy Speaks 200). Because global readers were able to separate the book‟s message from its American origins, Looking Backward became an international sensation. It sold more than half a million copies in the United States in its first two decades, a quarter million in England, and perhaps two million elsewhere. Translated into many languages, it appeared, often in multiple editions, throughout Europe, in Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and even Japan (Bowman, Year 2000, 121). Thousands of readers in these places testified that Bellamy‟s utopia changed their lives, and leaders of many social and political movements credited it with spreading their doctrines successfully. In 1935, when they were asked to name the ten most influential books worldwide of the previous fifty years, the philosopher John Dewey and historian Charles Beard placed Looking Backward second only to Marx‟s Das Kapital. (Sadler 553) If an analogous survey were taken in Britain or Germany, the results would probably have been similar.
Little about Edward Bellamy‟s biography before Looking Backward presaged such global influence.2 Sickly, introspective, and bookish, Bellamy grew up in an established middle-class household in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts and spent most of his adult life within walking distance of it. Many commentators have detected strains of nostalgic anti-urbanism in this “village utopian”; fewer have noticed that Bellamy‟s village became an industrial city during his youth and that Bellamy hungrily absorbed worldly ideas and information from his travels to Boston, New York, and Germany.3 Ambition, curiosity, and a lifelong habit of detachment made Bellamy a cosmopolitan even in his provincial location. After a year of college Bellamy spent the winter of 186768 in Dresden, which introduced him to European urban life. In 1871 he took a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post, where he filed stories about Tammany Hall and striking workers and met veterans of the antebellum Fourierist movement. When Bellamy returned to Chicopee Falls in 1872 he saw its industrial transformation through new, more critical eyes. That year he gave an admiring address on “Socialism” to the local lyceum and became the literary editor of the Springfield Union, a post that allowed him to read widely in British and American social literature. Bellamy‟s own literary career began with psychological tales modeled on Nathaniel Hawthorne‟s short stories, but privately he longed to write a “great book” that would address the broadest questions of social organization. By 1886 the impact of the Haymarket Riot and concern for his young children‟s future made his fictional treatise an urgent priority. When Bellamy described the hero of an unfinished story that year, he was really describing himself: “Cured once and for all of Hermitism and self-absorption, he plunges with enthusiasm,
with tremendous earnestness into the study of social conditions and develops nationalism” (qtd Thomas 168). Looking Backward was the result. Bellamy harbored hopes that his book would “give the voters ... a platform worth voting for,” and he took an immediate interest in stimulating foreign sales (Thomas 265). Still, he was unprepared for Looking Backward‟s overnight success at home and abroad. Hundreds of thousands of readers in North America, Europe, and Australasia were moved, outraged, and inspired by Bellamy‟s utopia. Three examples suggest the depth of their engagement. The first is one among dozens of conversion stories, so numerous that they almost constitute a genre. Philip Winser, a landowner in Kent, England, was the eldest son of a dissenting Unitarian family. By his own account Winser had been “pondering the anomalies of society, and how it was that the hardest workers … seemed to get the worst of it.” The answer came to him when he read Bellamy‟s book. He wrote immediately to the Boston Bellamy Club and was informed about a utopian colony already underway in California, the Kaweah Cooperative Commonwealth. Dropping everything, Winser sold the family farm and sailed from Liverpool. In Boston he met Bellamy, who tried to talk him out of the colony scheme. The time for such small escapist colonies was past, Bellamy announced; the best way to revolutionize society was to work directly through national politics toward a socialist state. Undeterred, Winser crossed the continent, climbed on a Sierra Nevada stagecoach, and arrived at Kaweah in 1891 (Hine 85-6). The second example comes from Italy. In the city library of Ferrara, there is a heavily marked copy of the ninth edition of an Italian translation of Looking Backward. On its front pages and throughout its margins, half a dozen readers from the year 1913
signed their names and heatedly debated the book. Some welcomed Bellamy as a socialist “comrade,” others endorsed or questioned features of his utopia, and each argued vehemently in the margins with other readers over the book‟s merits (Fink 346-8). These readers anticipated by nearly a century the impassioned and often contentious responses that readers post today on bookstore and interest-group websites. A third, much smaller set of readers prefigured a different response that has become common today: they glimpsed the specter of “Americanization” haunting Bellamy‟s promised land. Although Bellamy projected Boston of 2000 as a socialist utopia, he visualized it as an extension of an American consumer-style society. Looking Backward anticipated modern capitalism‟s mail catalogs, shopping malls, and credit cards as well as its labor-saving gadgets and electronic entertainment. One early twentieth-century French critic complained that Bellamy, like the American corporate plutocrats he claimed to oppose, “dreams of rebuilding the world on the model of an American general [i.e., department] store” (Victor Dupont, qtd. in Levin 297). Such passionate responses were not uncommon. Looking Backward prompted the publication of more than forty utopian novels as rejoinders in the United States and at least a dozen more in Europe. Its appearance led to long book reviews that warned potential readers away from its allegedly dangerous messages. And although Bellamy set out to attract readers to his specific state-socialist creed, his utopia produced an amazingly diverse cohort of converts. Crusading Protestant ministers, American feminists, Australian trade unionists, British town planners, Bolshevik propagandists, French technocrats, German Zionists, and Dutch welfare-state advocates lavished praise upon Looking Backward, and each group claimed to realize its ideals. Against the limited
national horizons of much American literary scholarship, these responses affirm that Looking Backward became a transnational intervention, a treatise in the form of fiction that joined an ongoing international debate about the future of industrial society. Bellamy was no doubt surprised by the book‟s global reach, but he welcomed opportunities to publish translations of Looking Backward and to address foreign events and audiences in the pages of his Nationalist periodicals. Why was Looking Backward so popular throughout the western world between 1888 and the outbreak of World War II? How did its construction as a literary utopia inspire widely divergent responses among reviewers and activists? Where did readers position Bellamy‟s book in debates over socialist internationalism and “revisionism”? What role did different national contexts and conversations play in filtering the global reception of Bellamy‟s utopia? What resonances did Looking Backward have for audiences in different social and national settings, and why? Asking such questions moves us away from the insularity of traditional American studies scholarship and its obsession with uniquely American literary traits and points toward transnational contexts and themes. In the second half of the twentieth century, as Looking Backward transitioned from political influence to scholarly consideration, commentary inside the U.S. initially adopted the dominant exceptionalist premises of the American studies movement. Beginning in the 1950s several studies featuring “mythand-symbol” approaches or more traditional literary history methods located Bellamy‟s utopia in pre-eminently American traditions such as Puritanism, Transcendentalism, Progressive liberalism, and technological optimism. Most of these studies analyzed the genesis and content of Bellamy‟s views, not their impact. Some examined how
Bellamy‟s utopia attempted to reconcile his American cultural inheritance with modern American life—Puritan guilt with democratic free will, individualist initiative with Darwinian evolution, agrarian values with industrialism.4 Others explored the internal tensions and contradictions of Bellamy‟s vision and those of other American utopian writers.5 This kind of commentary continues to appear, but since the 1980s it has overshadowed by more internationally-informed and ideologically explicit perspectives. One approach has been to revive intramural socialist debates in more sophisticated form In a study by Arthur Lipow Bellamy‟s Nationalist creed is fingered as the ideological precursor of “authoritarian socialists” in America and Europe, while Matthew Beaumont reduces Looking Backward in orthodox Marxist fashion to a reformist anodyne. But the dominant thrust of recent scholarship takes aim at the messianic nationalism and consumerism that are said to undermine Bellamy‟s utopia and to prefigure the ills of today‟s U.S.-led globalization. Studies by Thomas Peyser and Philip Wegner suggest that Bellamy envisioned--and probably approved--the impersonal consumer culture that America is now spreading around the world. Analogous studies by Susan Matarese tie Bellamy to the missionary impulse of U.S. foreign policy, discovering in Looking Backward the naïve and potentially dangerous confidence that American society represents universal ideals which should be imitated globally. These books flesh out a version, specifically centered on Bellamy, of the “cultural imperialism” argument that critics have adopted to denounce the imposition of American capitalist and consumerist values abroad (Tomlinson). Yet none test such claims against the actual reception of the book within or outside the U.S.
Kenneth Roemer‟s Utopian Audiences addresses this shortcoming by offering a multi-faceted interpretation of Looking Backward based on reader-response theory. This intriguing and playful study explores various “readings” of Looking Backward in the past and present, ranging from Bellamy‟s commentary on his own book and reactions by reviewers in the 1890s to the impressions Looking Backward makes on college students today. Although Roemer includes only snippets of commentary from readers outside the U.S., his book offers two important insights conducive to a transnational approach. First, he embeds his work in textual analysis by discussing the particular qualities of the literary utopia as transnational genre. Second, by examining a multiplicity of responses to Looking Backward, Roemer shows how readers use their social contexts and personal lives to locate, interpret, and transform cultural products they encounter. Both of these insights can assist us as we follow Looking Backward‟s international career. The argument presented here attempts to bring a genre-based approach to literary utopias into dialogue with specific information about readers‟ responses to Looking Backward during its international run. Two bodies of scholarship have done much of the theoretical and factual groundbreaking that makes this synthesis possible. Roemer, Darko Suvin, Gary Morson, Peter Ruppert, and others have dissected the hybrid nature of utopian fictions and offered explanations for how literary utopias‟ narrative tensions help both to disorient and to engage their readers. Meanwhile, scholars interested in Looking Backward‟s reception can draw upon detailed accounts in biographies of Bellamy, several studies of Bellamy‟s influence on American politics and reform, and an excellent but neglected collection of essays edited by Sylvia Bowman, Edward Bellamy Abroad. My indebtedness to these works should be apparent in this essay and bibliography.
My presentation is arranged in three parts, each reflecting different but related angles of approach. The first centers on qualities of the text. By considering Looking Backward as a contribution to utopian fiction rather than as a characteristic product of American culture, I suggest how literary utopias like Bellamy‟s lend themselves to multiple readings and sketch out some of the resulting divergent responses to Looking Backward. The other two sections focus on context more than text. By situating Looking Backward in the debate over industrial capitalism, socialism, and the state that occupied the industrialized West between 1890 and World War II, I discuss how Bellamy‟s novel helped create a transnational literature that shaped an international socialist community. Finally, I examine briefly the comparative reception of Bellamy‟s novel in several western countries. This reveals some collective patterns in the process by which readers located, rejected, and transformed the book‟s message according to local debates and national cultural understandings. In an informal way each section of this essay is meant to showcase a different transnational approach to the reception of Bellamy‟s utopia, and to others by implication: first a genre-based approach, then a transnational history of ideas, and finally comparative analysis. It may be true, as Kenneth Roemer writes, that “we will never know exactly why Looking Backward became so influential” (“Text and Context” 206). But I believe that internationalizing our frame of analysis and linking the qualities of the text to the historical record of its reception can give us a fresh response to this question, one appropriately scaled to Bellamy‟s era of economic and cultural globalization, and our own.
Four Elements of Utopia and Their Impact
Like many modern utopias, Looking Backward is a hybrid literary form, blending separate but related projects, sometimes quite awkwardly, into a single tale. Analysis of utopias as hybrid constructions has been developed in works by Morson and Ruppert, who emphasize their jarring but often effective juxtaposition of disparate narrative forms. Suvin introduced the concept of “cognitive estrangement” to capture the techniques of distancing and disorientation that detach readers of utopias and science fiction from their own society and prepare them to accept its inversion. Suvin, Kumar (Utopia and AntiUtopia), and others have emphasized Bellamy‟s skill at portraying the daily detail of life in utopia, giving readers a comfortable feel for a future that seemed both desirable and plausible. Roemer has insightfully counterposed this “familiarization” with Suvin‟s estrangement in his discussion of Looking Backward‟s appeal (“Contexts and Texts” 21623; Utopian Audiences 111-12).6 This essay offers an alternative synthesis of text and context, one that absorbs the analysis of estrangement and familiarization into a framework that considers four intentional components of Bellamy‟s utopian hybrid, and that links each with specific responses in the historical record. Looking Backward’s tremendous popularity broadcast four related but different utopian projects—a social critique, a tale of social transformation, an organizational blueprint for the ideal society, and a futurist picture of daily life--in an attractive fictional package. Readers who unpacked Bellamy‟s narrative could select, argue with, endorse, or extend any one of its elements, or even combine them in new ways. Whether open-ended, radical, reformist, or conservative, the four components of futurist utopias include a variety of arguments, ideas, and images to nudge
readers in various directions, to provoke their agreement or disagreement, to encourage a selective reading, or to inspire them to follow their own course. As Frank and Fritzie Manuel demonstrated, when the idea of progress spread in the eighteenth century the emblematic Western utopia shifted from description of a Golden Age or faraway land to a visit to the blissful future, often in the same place centuries later (4). In the nineteenth-century wake of revolution and industrialization, utopias, whether embodied in early socialist tracts or fictional fantasies, became blueprints for an ideal society and programs of social transformation. Looking Backward was among the first literary utopias to take this path. Bellamy claimed that he initially imagined his novel in traditional utopian terms as a “fairy tale of social felicity” (Bellamy Speaks 199). As the project developed, he became convinced that the seeds of future happiness were visible in the present beneath the surface chaos of industrial capitalism. The same processes of mechanization and centralization that capitalists were deploying could be harnessed to the public good. In an appendix to Looking Backward, Bellamy called it a “forecast, in accordance with the principles of evolution, of the next stage in the industrial and social development of humanity” (312). Exactly how would society pass from the misery of extreme inequality to the “felicity” of Boston in the year 2000? In the novel Bellamy used a version of the traditional magic-trick voyage to utopia: he has his hero Julian West fall asleep under the influence of a mesmerist and wake up 113 years later. But commitment to genuine social transformation required a specific and plausible scenario by which an entire society might become utopian. In Bellamy‟s collective magic trick, the gigantic corporate trusts become the public‟s “Great Trust” when the people stage a nonviolent coup, taking over
consolidated business and capital and organizing them as an enormous public operation. Because the change was seen as rational and in everyone‟s interest, it was not opposed by the capitalists or the result of class warfare, but arrived peacefully when all groups rallied to the “National Party.” Looking Backward was short on the details of this transformation, as many critics noted, but Bellamy made it clear that a chain of individual conversions had prepared the way for a social miracle. Despite the environmental determinism implied by Bellamy‟s utopia, in which new economic arrangements induce changed behavior, Bellamy traced the origins of the Great Change to a “religion of solidarity” that had replaced the individualist ethos of capitalist society. He presented the redeemed Boston of 2000 as a secularized version of Christ‟s second coming, underscored by the fact that Julian West woke up on the day after the first Christmas of the third millennium. In Equality (1897), his sequel to Looking Backward, Bellamy made Nationalism‟s religious underpinnings even more explicit by describing the final phase before the Great Change as a spontaneous religious outpouring called “The Great Revival.” Much of the structure and drama of Looking Backward is designed to promote among readers a conversion experience akin to this collective transformation. Bellamy intended Julian West‟s pilgrimage from confused traveler to appreciative guest and then full-fledged convert as a model for readers. He used several devices to deepen readers‟ identification with Julian, including describing in intricate psychological detail West‟s disorientation as he threw off his old beliefs, charting his growing euphoria as he took on the new, and playing on West‟s and the readers‟ guilt over not doing more to hasten the millennial day.
In another, quite different story he told of the book‟s origins, Bellamy explained that his romantic plot was meant to sugarcoat “a definite scheme of social reorganization” (Bellamy Speaks 202). “In the fall or winter of 1886,” he wrote, I sat down to my desk with the definite purpose of trying to reason out a method of economic organization by which the republic might guarantee the livelihood and material welfare of its citizens on a basis of equality corresponding to and supplementing their political equality. (Bellamy Speaks 223-4) The arrangements of Boston in 2000 followed as logical consequences from the principles of equality and collective ownership. In Bellamy‟s centralized economy industry has been nationalized and the equal distribution of its products rationalized. All able-bodied Bostonians serve from young adulthood until age forty-five in the “industrial army” and receive the same annual income. Because the army is so productive there are enough goods to sustain everyone in comfort, to construct magnificent parks and public buildings, and to guarantee sustenance and leisure to retirees. Leaders of the productive force are elected from men who have advanced through the army hierarchy, and the nation‟s president is selected among them by vote of retirees. Since the system functions so smoothly there is no need for politics, legislation, or a criminal system. Bellamy made this schematic and rather rigid plan for the future comprehensible and inviting to readers by extrapolating several of its features, from its modes of production to its household conveniences, forward from the world of the 1880s. Although Julian West‟s guide Dr. Leete tells him that the Bostonians‟ organizational plan is meant to “settle” the major questions of social order “for all time,” Julian also learns about
labor-saving devices, schemes of mental and physical improvement, and other inventions that are being developed by the utopians (230). Bellamy incorporated predictions of radios, credit cards, airplanes, and pneumatic-tube transport systems into his utopia of 2000. Yet for all these innovations Bellamy was intent on reassuring middle-class readers that their way of life would not have to change substantially. Culturally, Boston of the year 2000 remains astonishingly Victorian, and Julian‟s hosts still dress, speak, and act like proper nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans. Julian engages in a chaste ritual of courtship that conformed to middle-class conventions in 1888 but would seem quaint or even ridiculous to actual audiences a century later. Unlike the social blueprint of Looking Backward, which is deduced from principles about the good society, its predictive features are inductive and provisional, the result of the author‟s scanning of present society and projecting current trends forward. In the novel a different narrative technique accompanies each element: the blueprint is explained through conversation while the predictions are demonstrated in details of everyday life. In this game of “show and tell” prescription and prediction embody opposing ideological tendencies. The prescription radically inverts the wrongs of present society and appeals to readers‟ desire for change, while the prediction portrays a future only incrementally different from the present, reassuring readers that the coming change will not be jarring. Because it shows how close the real and ideal worlds are, utopian prediction performs a more conservative function than utopian planning. Looking Backward thus offered a scenario for social change, an organizational blueprint for utopia, and a predictive, reassuring “speaking picture” of the future. Still, the most widely acclaimed aspect of the book was its fourth feature: its critique of
nineteenth-century competitive capitalism and the ideologies that legitimized it. Since Bellamy rehashed themes that were common currency among socialists and other commentators, his novel included little original social criticism. Instead, it was the way his book indicted present society that compelled readers and demonstrated the distinctive power of literary utopias. Roemer (“Contexts and Texts”), Kumar (Utopia and AntiUtopia, 167), and others have described the techniques of contrast and distancing that made the critical dimension of Looking Backward so effective: its narrative inversion of telling people of the future about the reader‟s world instead of the conventional opposite; its dramatic and simple contrasts between “then” and “now”; and its frequent use of analogies and parables. The novel‟s most famous passage offered an extended metaphorical riff on competitive capitalism. In Looking Backward, Bellamy compared nineteenth-century society to a coach being driven by hunger on a sandy road. Its passengers range themselves in seats on levels reflective of their class situation. The wealthy ride comfortably on top but are periodically disturbed by bumps in the road that might throw them off, or by complaints from the workers who pull the coach, who threaten to stop. Generally the rich mollify the workers by pep talks, religious consolation, philosophical justifications, and other “salves and liniments,” even as they solidify their position through inheritance and come to believe themselves naturally superior. Most sincerely believe that the situation cannot be helped. In this compact analogy Bellamy managed to condemn capitalist inequality, to satirize the use of class, religious, and economic ideologies to legitimize it, and to mock the prevailing fatalist sentiment that “there was no other way in which Society could get along” (98).
This indictment, like Looking Backward‟s tale of transformation, its prescriptive blueprint, and its futurist projections, contained enough details and ambiguities to prod readers in many different directions. Capacious and paradoxical, utopian fictions like Looking Backward present readers with an attractive but often confusing mixture of the novel and familiar, challenge and comfort, criticism and hope. How audiences absorb or select these messages--a process that is mediated by their understandings, interests, and commitments--conditions their response to the book. Because Bellamy‟s indictment of late nineteenth-century society was couched in both structural and moralistic terms, for example, it appealed to a range of social critics. Dispassionate analysis and extended metaphors lent Looking Backward an air of authority and impartiality. No particular group was responsible for the coach‟s bumpy ride, and all were victimized by it in different ways. Detached and impersonal, Looking Backward indicted a flawed system rather than its builders or upholders. This especially pleased educated middle-class readers, who expressed relief not to find class hatred in Bellamy‟s story; army veterans, who praised the application of military discipline to peacetime production; and professionals, who seconded Dr. Leete‟s detailed indictment of the wastes of capitalism rather than its injustice. “We make no war upon individuals,” declared the manifesto adopted by American Nationalist Clubs. “We do not censure those who have accumulated immense fortunes simply by carrying to a logical end the false principles upon which business is now based” (Bellamy Speaks 23). Ironically, Bellamy‟s emphasis on capitalism‟s inefficiencies and structural inequalities also attracted committed revolutionaries. Looking Backward‟s coach analogy was widely approved by socialist reviewers, whose commitment to the “scientific” (i.e.
Marxist) approach favored structural critiques and discouraged ad hominem attacks on capitalists. The “Parable of the Water Tank,” a pseudo-biblical story that Bellamy inserted in 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 71-3). On the other hand, the novel‟s moralistic indictment of capitalist competition attracted readers moved by ethical concerns to question their society. Julian West‟s nightmare return to the inhumanity of nineteenth-century Boston mesmerized Leo Tolstoy, who heavily marked the passage in his copy of Looking Backward in 1889 and immediately arranged for the first Russian translation (Nikoljukin 67-8). The Dutch poet and idealist Frederick van Eeden, the founder of a short-lived cooperative agricultural colony called Walden, dismissed Bellamy‟s future as “impossibly perfect and ...dull” but found his criticism of contemporary society “clear and penetrating” (Zylstra and Bogaard 223). Not surprisingly, readers who fixed upon one version of Bellamy‟s social critique disagreed not only with each other but took issue with other parts of Bellamy‟s book. Moralists like van Eeden tended to find Bellamy‟s blueprint too mechanical and deterministic while “structuralists” criticized Bellamy‟s gradualist scenario as implausible, whether too fast (from a “realistic” standpoint) or too peaceful and “bourgeois” (from a Marxist revolutionary perspective). Still, the idea of a gradual and peaceful social revolution had a seductive appeal. Bellamy‟s specific contribution to reformist socialism in the industrialized West will be
discussed in the next section of this essay. Meanwhile, a related theme that emerges from reader responses is Bellamy‟s ability to imbue socialism with religious significance, a feature that helped to produce many reader “conversions.” Bellamy‟s message of collective responsibility through the “religion of solidarity” and his absorption of Christian millennialism into socialist teleology made Looking Backward compelling reading to adherents of new religious creeds that promoted thisworldly utopias. Looking Backward was recommended by Helena Blavatsky, the founder of the eclectic East-West creed Theosophy, and her followers played prominent roles in the New England and California Bellamy associations. The British Theosophist Annie Besant championed Bellamy‟s book among the Fabians. Theosophists identified Bellamy‟s beliefs with their own goal of universal brotherhood, their faith in social change through consensus, and their merging of individual identities with all of humanity. In their eyes, both Theosophy and Bellamy‟s Nationalism were “religions of solidarity” (Morgan 260-75; Bowman, Bellamy Abroad 385-405). There was an especially productive synergy between Bellamy‟s socialist millennialism and the left wing of the Anglo-American Protestant Social Gospel movement. Advocates of “Social Christianity” believed that society could be as sinful as individuals, that the Bible foretold a kingdom of heaven on earth, and that Christian socialism offered a godly solution to social problems. In 1889 W. D. P. Bliss and other Social Gospel ministers who belonged to Nationalist clubs founded the American Society of Christian Socialists, and six years later they formed the American Fabian League. Through Bliss‟s evangelizing a branch of Looking Backward‟s American progeny can be traced that led to the ministry of America‟s most influential Social Gospel preacher,
Walter Rauschenbusch, to Christian socialist support for Eugene Debs‟s Socialist Party of America, and to the reforms of the Progressive movement, the first phase of the American welfare state (Bowman, Bellamy 116-9; Hopkins; Phillips). Progressive reformers and parliamentary socialists shared with Christian socialists the belief that individual conversion could be the linchpin of social transformation. Bellamy succeeded to a remarkable degree in inducing conversion experiences. Philip Winser was not alone in having Looking Backward change his life. Readers testimonials about Looking Backward include dozens of striking conversion stories, some from prominent American socialists like Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, others from journalists and academics around the world, and many from ordinary men and women, students and workers. In memoirs, reviews, and letters, these readers reported being “shaken,” “startled,” “awakened,” and inspired by Bellamy‟s tale. This testimony may exaggerate in retrospect the novel‟s impact, but there is no denying its ability to win readers‟ hearts. Henry Holiday, a British artist, first read Looking Backward when pressed by one of his students. On finishing the book I experienced a sensation unlike anything I had known before. It was the sense of a strong hope, of a gleam of light where all had been gloom, … a feeling of exaltation, and a consciousness that life offered something indeed worth living for. (214) Winser, Holiday, and other readers reenacted the conversion of Julian West from horror and guilt to hope, elation, and ultimately action. Bellamy had tremendous faith in the power of books to effect social change. Through Looking Backward he succeeded not
only in illustrating but in creating “the intoxicating effect of hope on minds long accustomed to despair” (280). Of all Looking Backward‟s features, the book‟s organizational blueprint drew perhaps the widest range of reader responses. Modern critics have noted the lack of pictorial detail in Looking Backward, and such objections were also voiced in the 1890s. One Italian reviewer complained that “the author keeps us ...on the threshold of his world,” whose structure and regulations were described only “summarily” (Fink, 336). But the generic quality of Bellamy‟s utopia probably helped it to travel well. Looking Backward‟s plan is universally applicable, not the product of a particular national context or socialist sect. Its implementation is not conditioned by local or national traits, and the ideal city of the future is abstract and placeless: Bellamy‟s Boston, unlike William Morris‟s London, is described so generally that it could be any city at all. Freed from its specific locale, Looking Backward could easily be cleansed of its superficial plot and read simply as a tract. By making his blueprint explicit and by demonstrating its logic through Dr. Leete‟s explanations, Bellamy lent his novel the authority of a textbook or treatise. Julian West functions as a stand-in for the reader by asking questions and voicing doubts, while Dr. Leete provides clear responses and effective counter-arguments. This catechistic question-and-answer mode persuaded at least some readers who followed its logic. Alfred Russel Wallace, the British proponent of evolutionary theory, testified that the “logical power” of Bellamy‟s presentation eliminated his doubts about socialism: Every objection, every argument I had ever read against socialism was here met and shown to be absolutely trivial or altogether baseless, while
the inevitable results of such a social state in giving to every human being the necessaries … and enjoyments of life were made equally clear. (326-7) Not all were convinced. Wherever it appeared, Bellamy‟s blueprint inspired many types of literary and political responses and rejoinders. Although professional reviewers, and many of the book‟s translators, appraised the book‟s literary qualities, most spent more time evaluating its detailed plan of a working socialist future. The key issues they discerned in Bellamy‟s plan—the viability (or desirability) of collectivized wealth and equal distribution, the impact of a high degree of social organization on individuals, the notion that social reconstruction or religious regeneration could change human behavior, and the idea that family, church, and state would evolve into new forms—became the grist for approving or disapproving reactions. Literary responses to Looking Backward often took the form of utopian fictions, and the book triggered a decade-long surge in this genre. Solomon Schindler‟s Young West (U.S., 1894), Charles Caryl‟s The New Era (U.S., 1897), and Hansel Truth‟s Am Ende des Jahrausends (Germany, 1891) sketched additional features of Bellamy‟s new world. Arthur Bird‟s Looking Forward (U.S., 1899), William Morris‟s News from Nowhere (Britain, 1890), and S.F. Sharapov‟s Fifty Years Later (Russia, 1902) were among many direct responses that offered alternative visions of the future. Richard Michaelis, Looking Further Forward (U.S., 1890) and Ernst Mueller‟s Ein Rueckblick aus dem Jahre 2037 auf das Jahr 2000 (Germany, 1891) were anti-utopian fictions that aimed to show the impossibility or danger of Bellamy‟s plan. Many more novels, including H. G. Wells‟s When the Sleeper Wakes (Britain, 1899) and Theodor Hertzl‟s Alteneuland (Austria, 1902), were prompted by the appearance of Looking Backward and sometimes borrowed
its literary effects and character types. Among political activists, socialist and nonsocialist comentators in several countries staked out their positions, whether negative or positive, on the book‟s portrayal of life a century hence. In Dr. Leete‟s tours and lectures these activists found enough particulars of the socialist future to select aspects of life in 2000 of which they approved or to single out specific features for criticism. Among those who approved, Bellamy‟s influence on feminism and urban planning was particularly notable. These demonstrated how, when the book‟s dissemination coincided with nascent reform movements, Looking Backward‟s abstract blueprint for the utopian future could inspire specific, practical ideas for change. Bellamy‟s feminism was limited and patronizing, steeped in Victorian stereotypes about women‟s physical limitations and “separate spheres.” Despite its traditional ideas about women, nearly every important American feminist of the 1890s praised Looking Backward and affiliated with Bellamy‟s Nationalist movement. What attracted them was the way Bellamy‟s economic guarantees promised to free women for independent decisions about occupations and marriage (although such liberated women were not among the book‟s characters) and especially how Bellamy‟s public laundries, central kitchens, and communal dining houses (which were in fact described in Looking Backward) freed women from household drudgery. The feminist possibilities of Bellamy‟s arrangements were sensed by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and other advocates of cooperative housekeeping. Gilman made apartment hotels, kitchenless dwellings, and housework by “trained professionals” part of her influential feminist/socialist program for guaranteeing women‟s independence and equality in practical terms. Other American feminists detached such features from
socialism and linked them to various reform agendas, from the pure food crusade and women‟s education to the settlement house movement and concerns for domestic “efficiency.” As result, Bellamy was credited by turn-of-the-century feminists for such measures as “home economics” curricula in schools, municipal kitchens and public laundries, and cooperative boarding clubs (Hayden 134-49). A similar convergence took place between Bellamy‟s blueprint and new developments in urban planning. Although Looking Backward provided few details about urban design in 2000, Bellamy‟s generalized conception of the new Boston as a composite of country and city life inspired Ebenezer Howard, founder of the Garden City movement in England. Howard was “fairly carried away” by Looking Backward and arranged for a British edition to be published. Howard developed his plan for a British Nationalist colony into Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1898), a treatise that brought him fame and influence on both sides of the Atlantic. His vision of medium-sized satellite cities extending into the countryside, community control over property rights, communal dining halls, and a balance between rural and urban environments owed a strong debt to Bellamy‟s utopia (Macfayden 21). These conceptions returned across the Atlantic to shape the agenda of American regional planners in the 1920s. (Thomas 361). Finally, there is the quite different impact of Bellamy‟s futurist extrapolations, especially the technological inventions of 2000 that Bellamy described with obvious delight—radios, videophones, catalog stores, credit cards, airplanes, and pneumatic transport systems. These predictive aspects of Looking Backward made the future attractive to many readers, but they also undermined with concrete details the collectivist pieties voiced by Dr. Leete and linked Bellamy, despite his socialist objectives, to the
dominant capitalist mores of his time. By leaving Victorian conventions of gender and family untouched and by offering readers a world of corporate production and privatized, abundant consumption, Bellamy portrayed a future in tune with the technological advances and consumer capitalism of his day. It is not surprising that this aspect of the book entranced many middle-class readers; it is equally unsurprising that it appalled cultural radicals like William Morris, who derided Looking Backward as a materialistic paradise whose middle-class preferences exposed its author as interested only in “half change”: Bellamy‟s socialism reorganized the economy, Morris wrote, but “in other areas of life, people‟s ways of life and habits of thought will be pretty much as they are now” (Morris II: 50; Political Writings 336-7). Looking Backward’s influence among capitalists originated from Bellamy‟s praise for mechanized production and corporate organization, which some enthusiastic readers simply detached from Bellamy‟s program of state supervision. Arthur Lipow has detected a thread of influence that passed from Bellamy‟s followers to the “scientific management” of Frederick W. Taylor, which was obsessed with efficiency through specialization, and also to General Electric‟s Charles Steinmetz and other corporate spokesmen who promoted their organizations as models for social progress (90-3). More than Bellamy‟s fascination with efficient production, Looking Backward‟s portrait of the Bostonians‟ life of leisure and consumption gave readers a vivid, reassuring, and—in the industrialized West--accurate glimpse of their future. Instead of a life that integrates work and play, the public and private, as envisioned by Morris and radical cultural utopians, Bellamy presents a compartmentalized world where work and leisure are kept apart and Victorian middle-class privatism prevails. Labor, considered
inherently disagreeable, ends when Bellamy‟s utopians reach age forty-five, followed by decades of leisure, self-improvement, and consumption. Housework is simplified by electric cooking, mechanical vacuums, and washing machines. Radio and videophones offer in-home entertainment, and credit cards, covered streets, and mechanical delivery make consumption pleasant. In line with the gendered conventions of his day, Bellamy declared shopping one of women‟s special interests; his heroine, Edith Leete, admits to being an “indefatigable shopper” (156). And like modern advertisers, Bellamy made the taste for consumer goods an important badge of self-expression. An enormous neighborhood emporium plays a central role in Looking Backward. Its luxurious domed space is the first public building Julian West visits and the only one he describes in detail. Its centralization of shopping exemplifies the efficiencies of utopia as does the transmission of sales orders and goods via pneumatic tubes. One of Bellamy‟s American disciples, Maine businessman Bradford Peck, developed a plan for enormous co-operative stores in his own utopian novel, The World a Department Store (1900), and tried it out in a short-lived experiment in his hometown (Davies). From Bellamy and Peck through the socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair‟s campaign for governor of California in 1934, a direct current of influence extended that created a chain of cooperative grocery stores in northern California (which lasted until the 1980s), and a host of similar enterprises elsewhere (Neptune). Another line of influence from Looking Backward, less distinct but in the long run more powerful, led not to consumer cooperatives but to corporate consumerism. Once removed from the socialist blueprint that created it, Bellamy‟s utopia of consumption and leisure was invoked by advertisers of ovens that promised to relieve overworked
housewives and replicate “the ideal life of the twentieth century, as shown by Bellamy” (qtd. in Hayden 148). Directed at such audiences, Bellamy‟s consumerist vision made his utopia less an alternative to capitalist practice than an alternative version of it. Eventually Bellamy‟s accommodation of socialism to nineteenth-century middle-class norms, especially evident in his consumerist fantasies, helped to prepare readers for the capitalist futurism of the early twentieth century‟s world‟s fairs, with their promise of better living through technology and their unveiling of houses, cars, and “worlds of tomorrow” that were only incrementally different from the present (Corn 61-86).
Evolutionary Socialism, the Welfare State, and Globalized Dissent
While the varied components of Looking Backward evoked an impressive range of responses internationally, among social activists the dominant “reading” of Bellamy‟s program was its promotion of evolutionary socialism.7 Given the social and economic crisis that provoked Bellamy‟s switch from a writer of psychological tales to a social commentator, it is not surprising that Looking Backward was interpreted as a foray into the debate over capitalist industrialism. In this context its most powerful practical effect was to offer support to new labor and socialist parties committed to a gradualist revolution. Writing in 1887, Bellamy pressed his publisher to put the book out quickly because the time was ripe “for a publication touching on social and industrial questions to obtain a hearing” (qtd. in Bowman, Year 2000, 115). The year before, the Haymarket riot in Chicago opened an era of intense polarization between American capitalists and
workers that continued through dramatic strikes in the 1890s and the rise of a viable socialist political movement by the turn of the century. As Bellamy himself was aware, such developments were not limited to the United States. Economic crises and depressions, the emergence of large corporations, the increased frequency of strikes and pitched battles between business and workers, the new imperialism and the growth of militarized states, the rise of socialist, feminist and reform responses, and government suppression of dissenters were common patterns in the industrialized West between 1888 and World War I. They underscore the transatlantic relevance of Bellamy‟s anticapitalist critique and his socialist solution to what was commonly called “the labor problem” or “the social question.” As the debate over socialism and the emergence of the welfare state played out across a transnational field, Bellamy‟s book was enlisted as a prominent intervention. In most cases it helped that Looking Backward was a novel, for Bellamy‟s hunch that socialist ideas embodied in fictional form would meet less resistance proved prescient. Looking Backward passed unscathed through Russian censors, whereas Bellamy‟s sequel, Equality, a more overt socialist textbook, was banned by Czarist authorities, who labeled it “far removed from a harmless and safe Utopia” (qtd. in Nikoljukin 70). Still, Looking Backward was widely understood by reviewers to be a treatise cast in fictional form, one that provided an everyday picture of the socialist future and disguised its arguments rather thinly in dialogue. It also mattered little to many readers that Bellamy was American. A survey of notices published abroad shows that most reviewers responded directly to Looking Backward‟s economic and philosophical arguments without commenting on its supposed
“Americanness.” Because Bellamy did not clutter his utopia with specifically American allusions, the book placed few stumbling blocks in the way of foreign readers. Looking Backward passed over immigration, race, and the closing of the frontier, topical issues that preoccupied many of Bellamy‟s American contemporaries, in favor of a class- and morality-based language that set aside regional or national peculiarities. The novel‟s generic description of strikes and its coach metaphor for capitalism made them recognizable elsewhere. Perhaps most important, Looking Backward stood out among American utopias of its time—and even among Bellamy‟s writings—for its lack of exceptionalist views about the uniqueness or superiority of American institutions. Bellamy saw the growing power of capitalist monopolies in America and Europe as a common process; in the second edition of Looking Backward he even excised the explanation that in the United States “this tendency was later in developing than in Europe” (125). And nowhere in Looking Backward did Bellamy attribute Boston‟s transformation by 2000 into a socialist utopia to the influence of special American ideals or conditions. This internationalist neutrality contrasts dramatically with the book‟s sequel, Equality, where Bellamy retreated wholesale to the conventions of American mythology. In Equality and in several Nationalist writings of the 1890s, Bellamy, intent upon building an American political movement, took conservative positions on race and immigration and wrote long explanatory passages that aimed to align his program with the revolution of 1776, distinctive features of the U.S. Constitution, and the Founders‟ republican ideology. Looking Backward was different. In contrast to most American utopian authors of his time, Bellamy expected that the coming revolution would not find its sole refuge in
America but would course around the globe. Like socialists elsewhere, Bellamy premised his alternative to capitalist organization on a scientific analysis of global trends and endorsed theories that, with adjustments for local conditions, were meant to be applied everywhere. In an article on “Why I Wrote Looking Backward,” Bellamy revealed that his initial premise was global rather than national. In the first draft of Looking Backward the United States was merely an administrative province of the great World Nation, whose affairs were directed from the World Capital of Berne, Switzerland. Only after Bellamy hit upon the idea of nationalizing industry as the lever of change and moved the arrival of utopia forward from 3000 to 2000 did he substitute the program of separate national evolution for the original idea of a homogeneous world-wide social system (Bellamy Speaks 200-3). In the final version of Looking Backward the movement toward federalized global socialism began in the United States, then spread to Europe, Australia, Mexico, and South America. As Dr. Leete explained to Julian West, once the more “advanced” nations reached the heights of utopia they helped the “backward” ones climb up after them (103). Recent critics, most notably Susan Matarese, have highlighted the echoes of Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy and missionary nationalism in this statement. But the faint overtones of American messianic nationalism that can be heard in a few passages of Looking Backward are drowned out by the book‟s insistent internationalist message. By lumping Looking Backward with all utopias that portrayed the United States as a “moral exemplar” to the world, Matarese fails to distinguish between the exceptionalist version of American nationalism and Bellamy‟s American version of socialist internationalism (40-46). The first dwells upon America‟s unique development and projects a providential
mission based on its special qualities; the second merely depicts it as the first nation to evolve toward a common socialist future. Bellamy chose the label Nationalism to avoid the alien associations of socialism in American readers‟ minds: socialism, he told the writer William Dean Howells—a fellow Christian socialist—“smells to the average American of petroleum, suggests the red flag, with all manner of sexual novelties, and an abusive tone about God and religion” (qtd. Morgan 374). But in Looking Backward Bellamy identified Nationalism not with any special American ideals but with the nationalization (that is, government ownership) of industry, and he hoped to link his program with the patriotic aspirations of readers everywhere. In Bellamy‟s view and that of many contemporary activists, national pride and patriotism were consistent with socialist solidarity across national boundaries. It is important to recall, as C.A. Bayly points out, that for many nineteenth-century movements, from the Red Cross to feminism and socialism, national organization was not the enemy but the precursor to international cooperation (239-43). Looking Backward can be read in transatlantic context as one of several national expressions of the dream of socialist internationalism, each of which asserted the relevance of socialist ideas and class solidarities across national lines, and most—but not all--of which envisioned that its home nation would lead the way to a global socialist utopia. (In a Bellamyite utopia that was serialized in The Nationalist three years after the publication of Looking Backward, Henry Barnard Salisbury‟s Birth of Freedom (1890), America follows Europe‟s example in adopting the Nationalist program.) Other national versions of socialist internationalism were expressed in France, Germany, Russia, and even New Zealand.8
These national variants, which became mixed with transnational currents such as reformism, anarchism, or syndicalism, proved hardy enough to survive hard-line Marxists‟ domination of the Second International in the 1890s (Wright 10). Of course, Bellamy‟s dream of a “world union” that was cemented by his Nationalist system never materialized, just as other socialist sects or nationally-based movements failed to capture lands beyond their place of origin between 1890 and 1914. Various ripostes to Looking Backward predicted that its Nationalist program would create international global chaos, not harmony. In John Bachelder‟s A.D. 2050 (1890), the Nationalists‟ takeover of America led to a decline that was ended through a successful invasion led by exiled businessmen and technocrats, who then kept international peace through military deterrence. Arthur Vinton, in Looking Further Backward (1890), foresaw that the Bellamyites‟ open borders and pacific ideals would weaken the United States so badly that it would succumb to invasion and occupation by China. These antiutopias formed American additions to the hundreds of “future war stories” catalogued by I.F. Clarke that were published in England and on the European continent between the late nineteenth century and the outbreak of World War I. This sensational genre addressed popular alarm that militarism, imperialist rivalries, and conflicting class ideologies would explode into a global conflagration. These authors‟ fears proved more accurate than the Bellamyites‟ hopes, for World War I famously shattered the dreams of leftists who predicted that global socialist or working-class solidarity would prevail over national loyalties. Nevertheless, Bellamy‟s book had a discernible impact in shaping an international community of reformist socialists in the two decades after its publication. Globally,
Looking Backward‟s strongest and most coherent influence was to offer support to new labor and socialist parties—or factions of existing ones--that were committed to a gradualist program. The ingredients of an evolutionary version of socialism, whether Marxist or non-Marxist, were coalescing just as Bellamy‟s utopia circulated in several Western nations. Orthodox Marxists repudiated the idea that revolution could come without conflict and working-class leadership; their reading of history was dialectical and materialist. By the 1890s, however, more idealistic, “revisionist” forms of socialism were developing in Western Europe and the U.S. as Marxist splinter groups, religious liberals, and parliamentary socialists gravitated toward “social democracy.” Their promotion of near-term reforms and gradual constitutional change kept socialism as the ultimate goal but advocated long-term, consensual strategies for achieving it. Through different national versions of “revisionism” developed by the exiled German Eduard Bernstein, France‟s Jean Jaurès, British Fabians, and the American, Dutch, and New Zealand Socialist Parties (among others), important segments of the international socialist movement were transformed into cross-class coalitions that adapted utopian socialist ideals to the industrial age. Where such reformist versions of socialism became popular Looking Backward offered inspiration and ideas.9 In England, Bellamy‟s influence became entwined with Fabianism, which shared his professional-class detachment and his evolutionary socialist agenda. H.G. Wells, whose utopias owed a strong debt to Bellamy, recommended Looking Backward to George Bernard Shaw, who eventually adopted Bellamy‟s commitment to strict economic equality. According to the historian R. C. K. Ensor, the trajectory of nearly all British socialist propagandists of the 1890s was to move from Henry George‟s land
reform program to Bellamy‟s state socialism (334). Through veterans of land reform organizations as well as the Fabians, Bellamy‟s ideas coursed into the British Labour Party (Marshall 103-7; Manton 326-47). In New Zealand, where a Labour Party had not yet been organized, a Bellamy admirer, the Fabian socialist William Pember Reeves won appointment as a Liberal Party minister in 1891 and enacted laws encouraging union organizing, establishing minimum working standards, and imposing state arbitration of lengthy labor disputes (Coleman 31-35). Francis Shor argues that the statist beliefs of Reeves, union leaders, and other New Zealand “liberal collectivists” paved the way for Bellamy‟s influence on national legislation there (39-42). In the U.S. of the 1890s the antistatist views of many labor leaders, as well as the absence of a viable national labor or socialist party, led Bellamy and his followers into a brief alliance with the mainly agrarian Populist Party, one that proved disastrous for Bellamyites after the Populists‟ electoral defeat in 1896 (MacNair). Yet remnants of the Nationalist Clubs remained politically active. The establishment of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in the following decade relied heavily in regions like Boston and California on Bellamyites. Job Harriman, Debs‟s vice-presidential running mate in 1900, was one of hundreds of Nationalist Club veterans who played leading roles in the early SPA. Bellamy proposed to use civil service, cooperative stores, and municipal ownership of transport and utilities as first steps toward the Nationalist utopia, and his American followers helped to inject these gradualist measures into the Socialist Party platform by 1912.10 World War I interrupted this trajectory of influence, but the global crisis of the Great Depression reactivated it. In the 1930s a revival among Bellamy‟s followers
influenced movements in industrialized nations where socialists and social liberals were seeking alternatives to fascism or communism. An International Bellamy League was organized with clubs in New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Uruguay (Bowman, Bellamy Abroad xx, 379) Some of Bellamy‟s Depression-era disciples in the U.S., Canada, and these nations were socialist, others were not, but most adopted specific schemes from Bellamy‟s book, such as centrally planned production, subsidized worker cooperatives, regional development schemes, public works projects, and publicly-funded retirement plans, to construct what came to be known as the welfare state. Nonpartisan Bellamy Associations established in the U.S. and the Netherlands in the early 1930s favored a general turn to government planning. The Utopian Society of America, which claimed 700,000 members by 1934, advocated a literal version of Bellamy‟s vision: “an end to private ownership, the establishment of a priceless, profitless system, …and the creation of a great cooperative commonwealth with only those between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five called upon to work” (qtd. in Bowman, Bellamy 121). Other clubs engaged in party politics. In New Zealand, the crusading publisher Alexander Scott put his Bellamyite followers to work for the Labour Party, which won the general elections for the first time in 1935 (Roth 239-56). Bellamy enthusiasts were among the founders of Canada‟s Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1932, a farm-based nationalization movement reminiscent of the American Populist Party (Fraser 145-6). Bellamy‟s legacy can also be traced among elitist movements of the 1930s that championed a thoroughgoing application of technology to production and distribution. In
the U.S., the Technocracy movement, inspired by the maverick economist Thorstein Veblen as well as Bellamy, rallied professionals around its vague promises of scientific breakthroughs and control over production by top engineers. By 1933 the movement split. One faction, calling itself Technocracy, Inc., combined militaristic uniforms and a rigid hierarchy with mounting anti-Catholicism—a combination that struck some commentators as proto-fascist. The leftist faction, led by Bellamy admirer Harold Loeb, formed the Continental Committee on Technocracy, which called for a Bellamy-style “industrial democracy” before succumbing to factionalism itself in 1936 (Segal 120-8). The main effect of the American Bellamy revival of the 1930s was to shape and support Franklin Roosevelt‟s New Deal program. Roosevelt enlisted several secondgeneration devotees of Bellamy in his so-called “Brains Trust,” including Adolphe Berle and Rexford Tugwell, the latter the head of FDR‟s Rural Resettlement Administration, which constructed a handful of “greenbelt cities” based on Garden City ideals (Morgan xii; Arnold). Arthur Morgan, Bellamy‟s biographer, became the first director of the Tennessee Valley Authority. According to Morgan, the TVA‟s comprehensive planning and conservation programs reflected utopian visions of an “integrated social and economic order” adapted to the realities of regional development (Bowman, Bellamy 128). Roosevelt‟s Social Security system was a less obvious Bellamy legacy. After reading Looking Backward, Francis Townsend, a retired California doctor, published his plan in 1933 for an “Old Age Revolving Pension” whose automatic monthly payments to persons over sixty would sustain the elderly and generate jobs. The Townsend Clubs enrolled nearly 250,000 members by the time their plan was introduced in Congress in
January 1935. Public pressure to enact Townsend‟s plan helped Roosevelt‟s more modest pension program pass through Congress later that year (Bowman, Bellamy 12324). The New Deal illustrated how even during the turbulent 1930s the reformist dimension of Bellamy‟s program continued to outweigh the revolutionary design of his blueprint. In orthodox Marxist circles where the welfare state and reformist socialism were repudiated, Bellamy‟s book became a spur to debate and a benchmark for clarifying where activists stood on the leftist spectrum. In the Soviet Union communist authorities denounced Bellamy‟s program as “bourgeois socialism,” but they also promoted his indictment of capitalist competition and his glowing picture of socialist abundance. In short, Looking Backward‟s international vogue circulated a toolbox of arguments, programs, and images, which socialists, communists, and social liberals drew upon to validate a gradualist path to revolution or to confirm their opposition to it. The fact that Bellamy‟s book was a novel added a new dimension to the debates, for Looking Backward represented a landmark convergence between global literature and globalized dissent. Viewed as a transnational phenomenon, Looking Backward embodied simultaneously two competing features of late-nineteenth-century globalization. On one hand, it was an example of what Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto called a “world literature” of bourgeois hegemony, especially as demonstrated by global diffusion of the novel: The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. ... And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual
creations of individual nations become common property. National onesidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature. (Marx 10-11) On the other hand, Looking Backward did as much as any work of nonfiction to articulate and spread a global socialist alternative. Bellamy‟s utopia, with its dozens of fictional imitators and thousands of real-world disciples, united a transnational band of social dreamers and dissenters in an “imagined community” of progressive activists. In a publishing venture analogous to the reports of the socialist Second International or the international women‟s rights organizations of its day,11 but without their conventions and collective discipline, Looking Backward helped energize the international socialist community in the pre-World War I era to counteract the spreading global capitalist nexus.
National Patterns of Reception
It should be obvious by now, however, that not all readers of Looking Backward drew a socialist moral—or even the same message--from it. A third transnational perspective on Bellamy‟s book concerns the way people in different settings related it to pre-existing traditions, local problems, and ongoing debates. Many such contexts, including religion, race, class and gender, could be analyzed to discern patterns of reception; but because translations of Bellamy‟s appeared in many nations and because national literary and political contexts so clearly shaped its reception, I have chosen
national comparisons as the focus of this essay‟s concluding section. In what ways did Looking Backward resonate in different national settings? One conclusion hinted at earlier bears repeating. In Europe, North America, and Australasia, readers and reviewers who were engaged in discussing social problems appraised Looking Backward largely according to their preconceived opinions. Bellamy‟s book staked out positions on issues that became central to the contest between capitalism and socialism: Should industry and the means of production be nationalized? Can a society governed by strict equality function without traditional economic incentives? Is there an unchanging, imperfect human nature, or are humans capable of being perfected by their surroundings? Such questions preoccupied reviewers in all western countries, and how they weighed in on them largely determined their assessment of Bellamy‟s book. A second clear pattern was that activist readers (as opposed to journalistic reviewers) readily took from Looking Backward permission to champion their own schemes as the most promising levers of social change. Like Philip Winser, those inspired by Bellamy‟s vision often chose other ways to implement it, even methods that Bellamy himself rejected. For many, the “atmosphere of hope” (in the words of John Dewey) that permeated Bellamy‟s tale became the book‟s dominant impression, and his program was not a final destination but a stepping-stone to other creeds and commitments. (qtd in Bowman, Bellamy 125) Looking Backward infused social activism with moral sentiment, proclaimed that humans could control their own destiny, and emphasized genuine possibilities rather than distant dreams.12 The book‟s appeal
across sectarian religious and socialist lines testifies to activist readers‟ hunger for encouragement, whatever the precise nature of their social program or cause. Thirdly, individual responses tended to cluster into patterns that demonstrated Looking Backward‟s different resonance in different national contexts. In the Englishspeaking world, including Britain, its settler colonies, and the U.S., a political culture of broad suffrage and legislative reform made Bellamy‟s scheme for ballot-box socialism plausible. There too, Bellamy‟s utopia found fertile soil in traditions of labor unionism, utopian colonization, and Christian socialism that had developed prior to and often apart from the Marxist strand of socialism.13 Thus, despite Looking Backward‟s stricture that labor unions were committed to a narrow, class-based agenda, worker groups from the U.S. and Britain perceived Bellamy as their ally. Prominent American labor leaders such as Terence Powderly of the Knights of Labor, Peter J. Maguire of the American Federation of Labor, and Eugene Debs of the American Railway Union praised Bellamy‟s book. These men injected Looking Backward into ongoing intramural struggles between narrow “craft” and broader “reform” unionism, drawing upon Bellamy to argue for a version of the latter: a labor coalition that organized industry-wide and pursued much wider changes than eight-hour laws, such as nationalizing the railroads, telegraph, and mines. Looking Backward played a key role in pushing union officials like Debs and Burnette Haskell of the Seaman‟s Union toward larger social aims (Rosemont 159-61). Bellamy‟s impact on the Australian labor movement was especially profound. Promoted by William Lane, Australia‟s most prominent labor journalist, Looking Backward was presented as “the natural [con]sequence of unionism” and union
federation as the germ of the new socialist society. Bellamy‟s book arrived on the island continent in time to galvanize worker support for the huge Maritime Strike of 1890, and in the wake of the strikers‟ defeat to legitimize the birth of an Australian Labour Party (Gollan 130). Similarly, despite the fact that Bellamy himself repudiated communitarianism as outmoded and escapist, the British socialists, California Bellamy Clubs, Christian socialist ministers in several U.S. states, and even Australian emigrants to Paraguay used his book to establish cooperative community experiments. The British Nationalization of Labour Society formed plans for a cooperative colony that would serve as an “object lesson” of Bellamy‟s principles and spread nationally (Marshall 99-102; Manton 345-6). In the U.S., the tireless labor journalist Julius Wayland founded the Ruskin Colony in Tennessee as a practical demonstration of “the Bellamy plan of social organization” (Brundage 31). The Kaweah Cooperative Commonwealth, which Philip Winser joined, drew a large proportion of its members from Nationalist Clubs, and advertisements in The Nationalist promoted the colony as “Bellamy‟s Dream Realized!” Kaweah was one of several California utopian colonies inspired by Looking Backward.14 Eugene Debs interpreted Looking Backward to endorse his plan to raise funds to establish cooperative colonies for unemployed workers in the Pacific Northwest. Only when this scheme foundered in 1898 did Debs join the socialist splinter group that rejected utopian colonization, ran him for President in 1900, and formed the Socialist Party of America the next year (Bell, 48-53, 57-58). Unlike most Marxist socialists, activists in Britain and its settler societies drew few rigid lines between socialist political work, labor union
activities, and experimental colonies, and they moved back and forth among these strategies depending on opportunities and circumstances. By contrast, in Germany, Russia, and to a lesser extent Italy, Looking Backward fit readily into well-developed sectarian debates among socialists, controversies that were decisively shaped by advocates of various shades of Marxism and their capitalist or monarchist enemies. (It is significant that none of these countries had a vital Christian socialist movement.) Consequently, Looking Backward exerted little independent influence among intellectuals or activists but was used by ideological spokesmen to confirm their position on key socialist issues or on the question of socialism generally. In Germany, interest in Bellamy was probably greater than anywhere outside the Englishspeaking world. Numerous editions of Looking Backward were published in at least seven different translations, one by Clara Zetkin, a prominent socialist feminist. Responses to the book were registered in book reviews, essays, lectures, and in a wave of counter and alternative utopias. Seven translations of Looking Backward also appeared in Russia between 1898 and 1918, including the initial one arranged by Tolstoy. Bellamy‟s popularity among Russian readers, especially in intellectual and worker circles, escalated with the agitations that preceded the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. In Italy, Looking Backward‟s three translations went through several editions, and Bellamy‟s book became a political football kicked between conservative and socialist journals. All three nations had strong monarchist or authoritarian traditions that were upheld during the 1890s in condemnatory reviews of Looking Backward. The dominant antisocialist response blamed Bellamy for subverting the family, religion, and property as
well as ignoring human imperfection. In contrast, the dominant Marxist socialist response was that Bellamy‟s book was useful for demonstrating the evils of capitalism but hopelessly utopian in its plan to enlist the middle class in collectivizing production. German Social Democrats such as Auguste Bebel and Karl Kautsky shared Bellamy‟s hopes for socialist electoral victories, but they insisted that working-class struggles were the engine of social change and denounced Bellamy‟s Boston of 2000 as a bourgeois fantasy. (Toth, 166-72). Not surprisingly, anarchists in Italy condemned Bellamy‟s plan as a statist dystopia. Amid the polemics there were occasional voices that offered a balanced appraisal. One moderating factor was that socialists of many stripes recognized Looking Backward‟s propaganda value. As one of Bellamy‟s Italian publishers shrewdly noted, “the merit of Bellamy‟s work lies in the fact that the book is good propaganda, supremely and deeply socialistic,” and yet it “neither provokes nor disgusts the upper classes” (qtd. in Fink 330) Others recognized that Bellamy‟s book, however flawed, won over many working-class readers to socialism. One Russian economist claimed in 1906 that Looking Backward had provided “more effective propaganda of the ideas of socialism among the broad masses than any other book during the past thirty years” (M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky, qtd. in Nikojulin 72). Certainly some of the Italian readers of the 1913 edition of Looking Backward felt this way. “Comrade Bellamy,” one wrote in the book‟s margins, “I cannot tell you how impressed I was when I read your book.... I think that if socialism were practiced in the manner you propose, it might bring about a golden age.... Hurray for Socialism!” (Fink 347)
Among the responses in major European nations the most intriguing and exceptional was France. Although four translations of Looking Backward appeared in France in the 1890s and some critical commentary ensued, Bellamy‟s book stimulated surprisingly little journalistic interest and debate. In theory, Bellamy‟s book should have had great traction in France. French socialism derived from utopian and romantic roots as much as from Marxism. French journalists of the 1890s wrote influential books and articles about American trusts and monopolies, opening a controversy among socialists about whether the centralization of capitalist business was a step away from or toward nationalized industry. Looking Backward arrived amid French socialist debates over this “possibilist” scenario as well as Eduard Bernstein‟s revisionism (Roger 219-53). Yet there were important filters blocking the book‟s favorable reception. One was French socialists‟ preference for theoretical treatises over speculative fiction: it was not a complement when one reviewer called Bellamy “the Jules Verne of socialism” (qtd. in Levin 287). The biggest obstacle was that the French fit Bellamy‟s utopia into existing fears of “Americanization,” a word the French had invented in the 1860s not to describe the actual invasion of American ways and products, but as a shorthand for modern developments they deplored and which they attributed to the U.S., especially its technological prowess (Kroes 153-4; Roger “Global Anti-Americanism”) Some French critics found that far from portraying a generic socialist future, Bellamy forecast the spread of American-style technological production and middle-class consumerism. The world of 2000 had been rebuilt “on the model of an American general store,” and Bellamy had corrupted socialism with “fordism” by stressing mechanical efficiency and material abundance (qtd. in Levin 297). A few French critics linked Looking Backward
to an “Anglo-Saxon” fascination with efficiency and consumption that Americans shared with the British and Germans (Levin, 282). But much more readily than other European readers, the French viewed Looking Backward as a specifically American cultural product and used the trope of “Americanization” to critique it. There was, to be sure, real evidence that a capitalist camel that had stuck its nose in Bellamy‟s capacious tent. French critics of the early twentieth century, like literary critics of the 1990s, were right to spot Bellamy‟s obsession with efficient production and to see prophecies of an impersonal consumer culture in Looking Backward. Where they erred was in identifying these modern capitalist trends as uniquely American rather than emergent among all western industrialized nations. Paris, after all, had played a prominent role in inventing the department store. “Americanization” was a term that expressed their “fascination” and “misgivings” about modern technology and mass culture while declaring both unFrench (Portes). By the turn of the twentieth century, for French critics “America had become a metonym for modernity” (Kroes 154). Ironically, when Bellamy‟s book finally achieved prominence in France during the Great Depression, it inspired a group that represented French socialists‟ Americanized nightmare: the “Movement for Abundance,” whose partisans, like the American Technocrats, predicted universal prosperity through application of modern scientific methods to production and distribution without challenging capitalism itself (Levin 3003). * * *
With increasing alarms about “Americanization” and with the waning of Bellamy‟s influence after the 1930s we reach a decisive historical break in the resonance
between Looking Backward and its global audiences. By World War II popular interest in Looking Backward had run its course. The book‟s message of Christian idealism had worn thin and its technological predictions had become dated, while the revolution it promised had been co-opted by western welfare states. Meanwhile, in a move that Bellamy never anticipated, his prophecy of centralized control over economy and society was being grotesquely fulfilled in fascist or communist regimes that subjected their peoples to totalitarian rule under various forms of “National Socialism.” In the Cold War era Looking Backward fell under the shadow cast by Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and it began to be read as their precursor. The American critic Lewis Mumford, who had absorbed Bellamy‟s ideas through the town planning movement in the 1920s, later decided that Bellamy‟s novel was “the first authentic picture of National Socialism (German style), or State Capitalism (Russian style), in its most insidiously corrupting form” (216). When global political changes reset Looking Backward in a new context, one generation‟s utopia became a later one‟s nightmare. By now Looking Backward has become a rather dim memory among the western reading public, but among scholars the project of re-reading Bellamy‟s utopia in light of current events continues. Whereas scholars of the 1950s and 1960s read Bellamy‟s book as a blueprint for totalitarian regimes, more recent critics fasten their attention on Bellamy‟s portrayal of private life in 2000 as a forecast of the West‟s consumerist dystopia (Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia 163-6; Peyser; Wegner 80). Once again we have confirmation of the many possibilities that lurk in literary utopias and the effects of changing social contexts in bringing out new readings. During its heyday as a bestselling utopia, Looking Backward inspired diverse and sometimes contradictory uses. Its ideas
were endorsed by Bolshevik propagandists and Protestant ministers; its streams of influence led to social-democratic parties and department stores; and its seeds sprouted in utopian colonies and labor unions. Although the decades of Looking Backward‟s international vogue are long past, the book‟s afterlife among scholars and critics should produce a similar spectrum of views. Whatever form critical commentary takes, it will have to acknowledge the hybrid nature of this utopia and the diversity of readers‟ responses to its components. Any study that is framed internationally will also have to address both Bellamy‟s transnational appeal and the conditioning impact of national contexts. As we experience the latest era of globalized capitalism Looking Backward‟s international career can remind us simultaneously of globalization‟s nineteenth-century roots, the possibility of transnational movements of resistance, and the persistence of national differences.
* An earlier version of this essay was presented as keynote address to the American Studies Association of Turkey in Ankara, November 1, 2006. Portions have appeared in somewhat different form in “Edward Bellamy‟s Looking Backward: The International Impact of an American Socialist Utopia, 1888-1945,” in Visualizing Utopia, ed. Mary Kemperink and Willemein Roenhorst (Louvain: Peeters, 2007): 1-29. Many thanks to the two anonymous readers for Utopian Studies, whose helpful comments guided my revisions.
For bibliographies of the secondary literature on Bellamy, see Griffith, Widdecombe,
and Widdecombe and Preiser 337-68.
For biographies of Bellamy, see Morgan, Thomas, and Bowman, The Year 2000.
Morgan and Thomas draw heavily upon an unpublished biography by Bellamy‟s friend Mason Green deposited in the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Aaron 92 characterizes Bellamy as a “village utopian.” For useful correctives, see
Thomas 28 and Mullin, “Bellamy‟s Chicopee.”
For Bellamy‟s Puritan and Transcendentalist inheritances, see Schiffman, Tichi, and
Hall. For Bellamy and Darwinism, see Thomas. Bellamy‟s wrestling with urban industrialism from a small-town perspective is emphasized in Aaron, Wilson, Mullin, and Beilharz. Segal stresses Bellamy‟s contribution to an American strain of technological utopianism. For Bellamy‟s place in the American “progressive tradition,” see Aaron.
The best of these studies, Roemer‟s Obsolete Necessity, surveys themes linking Bellamy
and his imitators to American middle-class values and concerns.
For theoretical support, see Ruppert‟s interpretation of literary utopias as initiators of a
“dialectical process that both criticizes and constructs, that both defamiliarizes social reality and seeks to familiarize us with a social dream” (53). Pfaelzer 14-15 juxtaposes estrangement and familiarization in her introduction to late nineteenth-century utopian novels but does not apply the concepts specifically to Looking Backward.
See Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia 146-47 for confirmation of this. For the less well-known example of New Zealand, see Coleman 16-41.
For the theoretical underpinnings of this shift, see Kloppenberg. For more on Bellamy‟s
impact among European socialists, see Toth. Burwood suggestively places the American socialist Eugene Debs in this transnational context.
For Bellamy‟s influence on American socialists, see especially Rosemont 162-71. For the organizational efforts of socialists and feminists, see Braunthal and Rupp. In this sense, Bellamy‟s book shared important features with the “principle of hope”
that Ernst Bloch described as the essence of utopia, despite Bloch‟s dismissal of it as a collection of “Babbitt-wishes” (613).
Scholarly interest in utopian traditions among the British settler societies, including
Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, is on the rise. See, for example, the survey of New Zealand utopianism by Sargent. Pordzik, Quest for Postcolonial Utopia, considers recent utopias (since 1970) from nations formed within the British Empire and traces common formal strategies among them.
See Hine and Kagan for others.
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