History of Socialist Thought, Vol. 5:
by G. D. H. Cole, Macmillan. 35s.
Jäger; Juarès, J.; Johannsen, A.; Jovanóvic, D.; Jowett, F. W.; Justo, Gen.; MacDonald, R.; Macek, V.; Machow, R.; Macia, Col.; Malatesta, E.; Malenkov, G.; . . .” The very index to Cole’s History bubbles with compendious and intriguing scholarship. It should, by now, need no saying that there is no other work to compare with the internationalist erudition and clear-headed analysis of Cole’s narrative. Particularly indispensable are the sections on Latin America and China, and the final conspectus, “Looking Forwards And Backwards”, which points the moral to all seven books of the History.
Socialism And Fascism should go far towards exploding the nostalgic myth of the Red Thirties. Only in Spain and France, and then temporarily, did the working class movement as a whole make any tangible gains. Scandinavia, as Cole makes clear, is very much a special case. Elsewhere in Europe, reaction triumphed outright over Socialism; either through the brute force of Fascism (Austria, Germany) or the dead weight of a subservient popular consciousness (practically everywhere else). Where revisionist concessions a la Crosland were made to appease the right-wing mood (Belgium, Holland, Switzerland), there was no significant response, or an actual decline in mass support. As for Britain, Cole corrects the record with a shattering outline of Labour Party and TUC policy in the decade. The Left seems never to have mustered as many as half a million votes in the struggle over the United Front.
Other reviewers have pointed out the remarkable absence from the book of any very detailed account of Socialist thought (which, after all, is what the title states to be the theme). The Chapter on China is the exception, containing as it does a very full treatment of Mao’s particular variety of “substitutionism”. This omission is predominantly the fault of the Thirties rather than of their historian. The decade produced a good deal of effective journalism and popularisation, but very little theoretical originality. The pressures of the Popular Front worked to squeeze out any consideration of the more awkward problems of power. Even Cole’s own socialist pluralism seems to have suffered a public eclipse at the time.