This is a completely rewritten and expanded version of a study which originally appeared in the socialist student magazine Anvil (Winter 1960) and was subsequently reprinted two or three times elsewhere. The framework, the general content, and some passages remain, but I have taken advantage of this new edition to make a thorough revision of what was a hasty first draft.
The aim is not to give a history of socialist thought in a nutshell, but simply to illustrate a thesis – the thesis being a historical interpretation of the meaning of socialism and of how socialism came to mean what it does today. To this end I have selected for discussion a few of the most important socialist currents up to the early 20th century, since the object of the inquiry is the wellsprings of the modern socialist movement. There are a number of tendencies which would have been difficult to treat briefly, and are therefore not discussed here at all, such as syndicalism, DeLeonism, Bolshevism, the IWW, the collectivist liberals, etc.; but I believe that their study leads to the same conclusions.
The chief difficulty in treating the subject briefly is the heavy encrustation of myth over the written history of socialism. At the end I have listed a very few works which are especially useful for some of the figures discussed here; for others the interested reader simply has to go back to the sources. There is no half-decent history of socialist thought extant today: and there probably will not be one until more socialist scholars do the kind of job that E.P. Thompson did for William Morris, whose image had been almost obliterated by the myths.
Speaking of William Morris, I re-read “A Dream of John Ball,” and came once again across the oft-quoted passage about – Well, let us quote it again, as motto for the following pages: “… I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name…”