A Socialist Christmas

Marxism and Christian holidays hardly go hand-in-hand. Yet the December 1902 Internationalist Socialist Review ran the article "Christmas a Socialist Festival" (pp. 382-383). It read in part:

Christmas is older than Christendom. How old we will not try to say, but the midwinter festival of peace and good will was an ancient custom at Rome when the first Christian church was founded there. The festival, celebrated by a nation of masters and slaves, was a gladsome reminiscence of the happy childhood of the race when there were no slaves and no masters. While it lasted, men were free to follow their natural impulses of love and good will, forgetting for a moment the distinctions of class.

Two thousand years have passed; still men are masters and slaves; still we have the Christmas festival of people and good will; dimmer and dimmer has grown the twilight of the days of equality to which the people of Rome looked longingly back. But the Christmas spirit has lived in the hearts of the people and it mingles with the gladness of the dawn-thought. For the old order of class rule is crumbling, and the workers are rising to a consciousness of the present struggle, the coming victory, the coming joy, the coming season of love and peace, when Christmas shall last the whole year through, because social relations will be such that those who follow the golden rule will not longer be crowded off the earth.

The author then listed a number of books suitable as Christmas gifts. It seems, then, that they had an ulterior motive in linking socialism and Christmas: selling books. (Charles H. Kerr & Co. published International Socialist Review and a lot of books.)

Indeed, in other issues, International Socialist Review was more explicit in hawking Christmas wares:

From "Books for the Holidays" (pp. 316-317) in the November 1902 issue:

December is the great book-buying month of the year. It is becoming more and more a regular custom for friends to send each other books at the Christmas season, and socialists can do some very effective propaganda work by using Socialist books for their presents. Most of the books issued by our co-operative publishing house are printed and bound in as inexpensive a style as possible, to suit the slender purses of the people who do useful work. We are, however, issuing a few books in a dainty holiday style to make them acceptable gifts for those who must be pleased with the appearance of a book before they will open and read it.

Similarly, in the December 1905 issue (pp. 378-383):

The buying of books for Christmas gifts is a custom that is on the increase. For socialists this gives a chance for education and propaganda that should not be passed by. Only it is necessary to use judgment. It is not advisable to give Marx's Capital to a sixteen-year-old nor Evelyn Gladys's Thoughts of a Fool to a preacher. In selecting a book for a non-socialist it is sometimes better to take a work of science or fiction that will subtly destroy some of his prejudice, rather than come at him with a book that obtrudes its socialism on the title page.

The articles just quoted listed maybe 25 titles for socialist gift-givers. There's no point typing out every title. Some works were not socialist, like The Last Tenet Imposed Upon the Khan of Thomathoz, a "good-humored satire on the Calvinistic theory of election and predestination." Other suggestions reflect John Reed's observation that a third of the Socialist Party of America thought Marx was somebody who wrote a good anti-trust bill.

And if many of the suggestions were already hopelessly timid and old-fashioned in 1905, imagine how much worse were they after 1917. The First World War and the Russian Revolution showed that capitalism had entered its era of wars and revolution; that proletarian revolution was both an immediate possibility and necessity; that, paraphrasing Trotsky, anyone who repudiated the proletarian dictatorship repudiated the socialist revolution; that socialism means not municipal improvement or state ownership, but the destruction of wage labor, commodity production, the state, etc., (admittedly this wasn't shown by 1917 itself, but rather by the counter-revolution that culminated in Stalinism).

Still, a few of the recommendations remain worthwhile, almost 120 years later. These I will share.

Recommendations for modern(ish) socialist books to give as holiday gifts

Now, did you find this post while looking for modern socialist books to give as Christmas gifts? If so, here are a few suggestions. These are good introductory works that will appeal to the open-minded.