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Review: 'The soul of man under socialism'
Oscar Wilde, introduction by DR O’Connor Lysaght
Reprint publication Dublin 2005

Reviewed by John McAnulty

19th January 2006

Very few people would associate Oscar Wilde with socialism. The great Irish writer seems, from a distance, to be one of the representatives of a class-ridden Victorian society, despite his homosexuality making him one of its victims.

For that reason alone 'The soul of man under socialism', issued by Reprint publications, is a delight and a surprise. It is a minor gem of socialist literature and contains a timeless message.

Wilde, being Wilde, brings his own slant to the advocacy of socialism. In contrast to all the propaganda of capitalism portraying socialism as grey and soulless, he asserts that it is only by breaking the bonds of capital that the innate human creativity of each individual can be released.

The booklet is well ahead of its time, briskly dismissing the conservative reformism of much of British socialism and advocating the end of private property. Speaking today to an audience taught to see Live 8 as a form of leftism, Wilde rejects charity in favour of revolution.

A valuable adjunct to the booklet is Rayner Lysaght's commentary. It is possibly over-ambitious, dealing not only with the context of Wilde's understanding of socialism but also the place of the booklet in the development of his literary work, with the factors leading to the defeat of socialism and the possibility of resurgence today. However, by making the attempt Rayner links Wilde's idealism to the real historical struggle of the working class to achieve socialism. Certainly the commentary is no hagiography. Rayner points to a number of gaps and weaknesses in Wilde's argument, especially the glaring weakness of his dismissal of female equality. In doing so he presents a rounded picture of an important work.

No review can avoid referring to a major flaw in presentation. The slimline look of the booklet is achieved by choosing a very small typeface that presents a real obstacle to the reader. However it is well worth the effort of overcoming this obstacle and understanding at first hand a unique perspective on socialism.


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