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Edward Bellamy

John Simkin

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Edward Bellamy was a tremendous influence on the ideas of young people at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, he is no long remembered. I came across him several times when I was reading autobiographies of left-wing figures.

Bellamy became a socialist after reading The Cooperative Commonwealth: An Exposition of Modern Socialism by Laurence Gronlund. His novel, Looking Backward, was published in 1888. Set in Boston, the book's hero, Julian West, falls into a hypnotic sleep and wakes in the year 2000, to find he is living in a socialist utopia where people co-operate rather than compete. The novel was highly successful and sold over 1,000,000 copies. It was the third largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur.

Bellamy Clubs were established all over the United States for discussing and propagating the book's ideas. Alfred Salter read the book as a young man in London and along with his wife, Ada Salter, attempted to build Bellamy's utopia in Bermondsey. His book also inspired the Garden City movement.

According to Benjamin Flower: "Edward Bellamy possessed a charming and lovable personality. There was nothing of the militant reformer about him, although he was a man who held steadfastly to his convictions." Erich Fromm has argued that the is "one of the most remarkable books ever published in America."

A strong supporter of the nationalization of public services, Bellamy's ideas encouraged the foundation of what became known as Nationalist Clubs. He also became editor of The Nationalist (1889-91) and the New Nation (1891-94). Bellamy's Equality (1897) was an attempt to answer the critics of Looking Backward.

Edward Bellamy died from tuberculosis at Chicopee on 22nd May, 1898.


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People who have claimed that they were deeply influenced by Looking Backward include, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Daniel De Leon, Eugene Debs, Julius Wayland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, Scott Nearing and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Some believe that Bellamy's Equality is a better book. The book emphasised the central role of women in radical social change. It also provided a bold affirmation of animal rights and wilderness conservation. Peter Kropotkin argued that he knew of "no other socialist work... that equals Bellamy's Equality."

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