Abstract

Scientific socialism as developed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the world's largest workers' party, and the Second International, basically a creation of German socialists, viewed utopianism as empirically unverifiable. The publication, wide circulation, and enormous success in Germany of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward therefore posed a strong challenge to the leaders of the SPD, Karl Kautsky and August Bebel, and it attracted their criticism on several occasions. Such high-level condemnations of Bellamy call for an explanation. The SPD, freshly out of illegality in 1890, scored a decisive victory over Bismarck, and the party's big electoral gains led to utopian hopes among the rank and file. In this expectant milieu, Looking Backward was interpreted as a model for immediate action. However, socialist leaders saw it differently. Kautsky and Bebel reasoned that the immediatism of the American utopia flagrantly violated the ineluctable tendencies of history, recklessly rushed historical destiny, and put the achievements of the socialists at risk. It was not without irony that Kautsky found the absence of utopianism one of the SPD's greatest accomplishments. It was into this utopian vacuum that right-wing futuristic blueprints increasingly moved, portraying Caesaristic leadership, interclass harmony, world power, and racial exclusivity to a rapidly expanding audience. By rejecting future gazing, as exemplified by their rebuff of Looking Backward, socialist leaders failed to wage an extended cultural campaign for hegemonic influence over sectors other than the working class. Their claim that they essentially had no ideals to realize and their adherence to the strategy of fatalistic waiting for the collapse of capitalism came at a high price, as their inaction in face of and even support of colonialism and World War I would reveal.

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