Friday, September 21, 2018

In pursuit of socialism

A review of "Socialismens Idéhistoria" by Ronny Ambjörnsson

This is a book by Ronny Ambjörnsson, a Swedish professor of intellectual history. The book's title in translation means “The Intellectual History of Socialism”.

It's a well-written, basic study of all the usual sources of socialist thinking: Greco-Roman ideas about the Golden Age, Jewish-Christian millenarianism and asceticism, speculations about “natural law”, the Radical Reformation, Thomas More and Tomasso Campanella, the radical currents during the English Civil War and French Revolution, and the utopian socialists immediately preceding Marx. We also meet all the usual people, including Wycliffe, Huss, Müntzer, the radicals at Münster, Winstanley, Babeuf and Buonarotti. Marx and Engels are only mentioned in a short section, since the book is intended as a history of pre-Marxian socialism (or proto-socialism).

Not bad, and relatively sympathetic since the author is a socialist himself. That being said, Ambjörnsson is objective, often criticizing the authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies in utopian philosophies. While claiming the mantle of Marx, the author sounds more like a libertarian socialist in the tradition of Kropotkin, syndicalism and guild socialism. He is openly critical of the “vanguardist”, “left-Jacobin” element in modern socialism.

If you're Swedish, finding this book at a library near you might still be possible, and you might actually learn a thing or two from it, regardless of whether you agree with his “woke” conclusions or not.

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