Sombart Werner - Socialism and the social movement

Author : Sombart Werner
Title : Socialism and the social movement
Year : 1909

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TRANSLATOR'S INTRODUCTION. The motto facing the title-page of this book sets forth the author's aim clearly enough. He sees in Socialism one of the great movements of our time and he seeks to make clear what it is, and what it wants, and gives an account of its development almost down to the present day. How the work has been done the reader will be able to judge for himself. The book has had an interesting history. It first appeared in 1896 and contained the substance of eight lectures on "Socialism and the Social Movement during the Nineteenth Century," which had been delivered at Zurich in the autumn of that year. The book ran to only 130 pages, but its sterling worth was soon recognized, so that in five years it passed through four editions and was translated into eleven languages. The first four editions were substantially the same; there were only changes in style here and there. That the book continued to have a wide circle of readers is proved by the fact that the number of languages into which it was translated reached seventeen, including Japanese, and that in Germany a fifth edition appeared in 1905. This extended to 329 pages and contained much ' The reader may be interested to learn what these were. Here is a list of them : French, Italian, Flemish, English, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Polish, Greek, Magyar and Armenian. The English version, which was a translation of the third edition, appeared in America and was from the pen of Mr. Atterbury. that was new. Indeed, it is not too much tp say that it was a new book. The standpoint of the author had not changed, but his treatment of the subject was fuller and his facts were brought up to date. It was in this edition that he first gave a careful consideration to what he regarded as the two portions in the Marxian doctrines; the one he looked upon as alive and effective, the other as dead and useless. 1 As in the case of previous editions this, too, met with a popular reception, and in 1908 the sixth and enlarged edition came out, running to 395 pages. This is based on the fifth edition, which it virtually reproduces with only minor changes in parts, but it c6ntains additional material in the later chapters and has a new and most interesting chapter on the latest phase of Socialism in France, which we have now learned to call Revolutionary Syndicalism, and a practical expression of which we recently beheld in the strike of the French post-oflSce employees. It is the sixth edition which is here translated. The book is well known wherever the German tongue is spoken. Its subject-matter is of distinct importance, and as for its style, nowhej-e is it more appropriate to say le style c'est I'hom-me. Those who know Sombart will comprehend my meaning. He was born at Ermsleben on January 19, 1863. His father, a self-made man, had risen to the position of landed proprietor, and the boy grew up in luxury, and received the best possible education. Eventually he went to the University of Pisa and then to Berlin, where he became a pupil of Schmoller. From his early years he had shown a strong interest in Social reform, and the writings of Karl Marx and Lassalle made a deep impression upon him. He steeped himself in Marx, under whose influence, indeed, he remained for a long time. In 1890 he became professor extraordinary 1 of Political Economy at the University of Breslau. His lectures attracted a very large number of students, so that session after session his classes had to be accommodated in the auditorium maximum at Breslau. And no wonder ! Sombart is a fine speaker, and it was a real joy to listen to the tall, energetic figure, and to watch the changing expressions of his countenance. He spoke from notes, and the humour and the sly touches which spiced his lectures were characteristic of the man. He is a modern of the moderns, standing under the influence of Zola and Ibsen. He is all for progress, and he has the courage of his opinions, speaking out boldly even when he knew he would suffer in consequence. And he did suffer. His views, as may be imagined, did not find favour in the sight of the powers that be in reactionary Prussia, and he was not promoted to the status of ordinary professor at Breslau, though all the world agreed that this was his due. In 1905 when the Commercial College (Handelshochschule) was founded in Berlin, he received, and accepted, the call as professor of Political Economy. If his lectures were excellent, his tutorial classes (Seminar) were no less so. I attended them in 1906 and 1907, and not only did we learn much, but we were inspired by the man. The Seminars were held once a week from 7.30 to 9 in the evening, and after the hour and a half of work, Sombart would accompany us to supper in a neighbouring restaurant. The professor in him was then hidden away, and the man, the personality, came to the surface. He was a delightful companion on those occasions, with nothing of the proverbial German professor about him. Yet he has the learning of the proverbial German professor, and he has given proof of it in several books, to say nothing of very many contributions to learned journals. Of the former, perhaps the following^ four are the most important, (i) Socialism and the Social Movement, which I am here introducing to English readers. (2) Der moderne Kapitalismus (Modern Capitalism), which appeared in two volumes in 1902, is his principal work, and contains the first instalment of a new system of Political Economy. Critics of repute did not agree with a goodly number of the views put forward in this book, but all of them praised its vast learning, and Irecognized that the work was one that mattered, and would have to be considered by workers in the field of economics. (3) Die deutsche Volkswirtschaft im igten Jahrhundert (The economic progress of Germany in the nineteenth century) appeared in 1903, and though it must be regarded as a scientific treatise, reads more like a romance. For here, as everywhere, Sombart attaches as much importance to beauty of form as to fulness of subject matljer. Fortunately, he has not only the faculty of exact definition and keen observation but also the gift of a delightful descriptive writer. (4) Das Proletariat (The Proletariat) appeared in 1906 and deals fully with a subject which he has made specially his own. Sombart, however, is no mere theorist. He believes that the economist should go out into the world and supplement the knowledge gained in the study and the archives by experience of actual life. While he lived in Breslau he was for a long time a member of the town council and was very much interested in the Society for Social Reform, of the local branch of which he was one of the moving spirits. As to his political views, it has been said that he combines a strong individualist conception of liberty with Socialist inclinations. His friends jestingly call him "The Demagogue of the Salon." So much for the book and its author. I hope I have not been altogether unsuccessful in clothing the author's narrative in an English form worthy of the original. I have spared no pains in this direction, for I believe the book deserves it. And if this translation finds favour with the English-reading public, I shall be amply rewarded for my labours. I have added a few notes in the hope that they may prove helpful to the English reader. I must not conclude without expressing my best thanks to Mrs. Erskine Childers for many valuable suggestions in the final revision of the book. M. Epstein. London, June I, 1909. ...

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