George Walford: Spiritualism

Spiritualism flourishes, socialism languishes. Martin Gardner reports that nearly all the first-rank American publishing houses have been knowingly issuing books of occult rubbish. [1] He quotes Ruth Brandon on the endlessness of the task of exposing their fraudulence; any success gets swamped by new publications and the mass goes wallowing on. The book trade magazine, the Bookseller, disagrees, but only on the ground that Brandon does not go far enough; the occult has not only held its own, it has spread. This claim seems justified; Psychic News announces over sixty forthcoming titles [2] At a recent (A-)SPGB meeting, on the other hand, a member was complaining that although books on (anarcho-)socialism had been written, no publisher would undertake to issue them. Readers can easily check these results for themselves; go into any general bookshop and look at the space devoted to the occult. Then try and find a book on even ordinary socialism, let alone the anarcho- version. This after a century and more of unremitting effort on the part of the reformers and revolutionaries.

In the former “Socialist Sixth of the World” spiritualism seems to have a lesser hold, but the books that have begun to appear with liberalisation offer hardly more comfort to the rationalists. Lindsay Hughes reports that the genres now “available in profusion” in St. Petersburg include religious literature such as bibles and lives of saints, translations of Western spy, detective and crime fiction, pornography and erotica. Democratic or libertarian socialism, let alone anarch- ism, does not get a mention. [3]

[1] Garner M. 1991 The New Age: Notes of a Fringe-Watcher, Prometheus Books
[2] Based on a report by D.S. in TLS 22 November
[3] Based on a report by Lindsey Hughes, ibid.

from Ideological Commentary 55, Spring 1992.