Labor History in 2:00

January 14 - The Rise of the Bellamyites

January 14, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1888 

That was the day novelist, Edward Bellamy published his futuristic, utopian novel, Looking Backward, 2000-1887.

The protagonist, Julian West, wakes up in the year 2000, to find that industry has been nationalized and wealth, goods and services have been equitably distributed.

People work less, retire early and enjoy greater leisure.

Looking Backwards was so popular that by 1900 only Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur had sold more copies. 

Bellamy’s utopia solved problems of capitalism through development of a socialistic society. 

Bellamy denied he was a socialist and instead referred to his vision as Nationalist. 

The novel sparked a political movement virtually overnight. 

Bellamyites, as they were called, formed Nationalist Clubs across the country. 

They attempted to organize a Peoples’ Party around these clubs, which soon dissolved into the Populist movement of the 1890s. 

Looking Backwards was a response to the Gilded Age world of monopolies and trusts, depressions and often-violent class convulsions. 

Bellamy was quick to indict the banks, the railroads and the corrupt political system that served them. 

Sociologist Arthur Lipow argues in his book, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement, that while Bellamy may have expressed anti-capitalist sentiments, his future is one in which there is no democratic public life or political process. 

For Lipow, Bellamy’s particular collectivist view is militaristic and bureaucratic, and does away with representative bodies of any kind. 

However, Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs credited his own political development in part, to reading Looking Backwards. 

He noted that, regardless of whether Bellamy considered himself a socialist, his novel generated popularity and enthusiasm for socialist ideas, causes and politics.

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