Max Nettlau, undated fragment on socialist progress


Ever since some 150 years ago demands for social justice from isolate affirmation of thinkers or rebels, became objects of the urge of greater numbers of people who in the most various ways called attention to them and proposed or attempted remedies, the question of social changes was tackled from all sides—that of partial or total, peaceful or revolutionary, authoritatively imposed or voluntarily accepted changes and propaganda, agitation, organizations, plans and schemes and sometimes real action present a most varied and picturesque ensemble with ever so many separate currents, interlaced, wrestling, amalgamating, bursting forth fresh again and so on. The French Revolution, the English Reform movements, the revolution of July 1830 opening the doors of modern public life or keen struggles for it in most parts of continental Europe, America in those years as an unlimited field of social experimentation, the 1848 and 1871 revolutionary periods, the International and the movements of the last sixty years in every country, all this represents the gigantic laboratory of coming social justice and, if history is at all worth to be recorded and examined, surely this period is to a most remarkable degree.

Before all, because we are still amidst of it and because very different currents are struggling to shape the well informed on the essence of the question and the history of the previous parts of this evolution in travail. For the immense struggle is not only waged between capital and labor, but also between authority and freedom which are the opposite poles in the old war between ignorance and knowledge, mental bondage and intellectual freedom. As the products of their age, also the keenest social reformers and revolutionists often remained under the spell of authority, much more so the downtrodden masses and this shaped the great authoritarian current of socialism. Other reformers and revolutionists, mentally emancipated much fuller, conceived and claimed complete socialism, comprising every sphere of liberation: the social, intellectual, more one, etc. and thus from the very beginning authoritarian and libertarian conceptions of socialism existed. If up til now, recruiting masses of adherents from the conservative, indifferent or vaguely democratic masses who never challenged the authoritarian principle, the authoritarian schools of socialism form a large majority, that was and is an initial stage, quite inevitable, just as centuries ago church reform led the masses soon stop criticism and enter the folds of the protestant reformers, whilst a small minority only advanced freely towards real science, but it is these who have built up science from the root and keep it on its level which even today all are not able to reach, but which all have learned or been brought to, in a certain degree, to respect. Protestantism was very cruel towards freedom and if modern bolshevists destroy the upholders of free socialism, Calvin burning Michael Servet, the Roman Church burning Giordano Bruno did the same from the same motives, but neither of them will stay progress.

Thus whatever the present aspect is with regard to material success, huge numbers and all that, we feel that the free socialism of the future is not contradicted by this rallying of the less developed masses under the watchwords of the authoritarians. It will grow, as science grew, and in coming times its origins and early history will be of similar interest to men, as today is the history and often the martyrdom of the early scientists, freethinkers, forerunners in any application of freedom is to us, whilst the scholastic disquisitions of the early theologians, the renewed scholasticism of the protestant sects are dead and gone for all of us, as will be the Marxist and similar socialist hair-splitters for the coming generations.

In general, historical research [manuscript ends]

[NETTLAU 2017]

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.