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(en) [culture] Oscar Wilde's (Libertarian) Socialism

From reporter2@mpinet.net
Date Sat, 2 Dec 2000 18:26:56 -0500

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

[Note: Nov. 30 was the 100th anniversary of the death of Oscar Wilde, a
brilliant man destroyed by one of the most virulent forms of oppression,

[ this article is from http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/wsm
the Workers Solidarity Movement of Ireland ]

You've read the poems, seen the plays or been to the film

Oscar Wilde's socialism


Yet all is well; he has but passed
To Life's appointed bourne:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long broken urn
For his mourners be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Paris has had its fair share of famous people die in it. Most of
them have ended up in the Pere La Chaise cemetery and Oscar Wilde is
one of them. Of all the people buried there, that was the one grave
I had to see when I entered that cemetery on a brisk March morning.
I admire him because he was the master of that Irish pastime of
extracting the Michael.

He was at first lauded by a society which would later reject him; as
much for what he believed as for what he did. He believed his
mourners would be outcasts because he never felt part of a society
that holds homophobia as an attribute rather than what it really is,
a disease.

"I think I am rather more than a Socialist. I am something of an
Anarchist, I believe..."

Oscar Wilde was also inspired by politics. He was not blind to the
obvious early failings of modern day society. The poverty he wrote
about over a century ago, in 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism',
exists on the streets of Dublin today. Throughout this winter I've
walked to work past bodies huddled under blankets in St. Stephen's
Green, wheezing with bronchitis in the frosty air.

Wilde wrote about the poor in relation to charity "the best amongst
them are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented,
disobedient and rebellious....Man should not be ready to show that
he can live like a badly fed animal. He should decline to live like
that, and should either steal or go on the rates which is considered
a form of stealing".

Wilde was living in a time when an estimated 2 million people were
living in poverty in London. The solution would come under
socialism, where property would be converted from private into
public wealth and society would be restored to "its proper condition
of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the well-being of each
member of the community." In the meantime for the poor "why should
they be grateful with the crumbs that fall from the rich man's

"If the socialism is authoritarian; if there are governments armed
with economic power as they are now with political power; if in a
word, we are to have industrial tyrannies, then the last state of
man will be worse than the first."  [Note: See full quote at the bottom of
this message.]

Wilde was certain of what kind of future he wanted for humanity. As
the quote above indicates he did not wish to see an industrial
tyranny rise in the name of Socialism. "All modes of Government are
failures", he maintained, while social democracy is "the bludgeoning
of people by the people for the people". His main obsession was with
what he termed "individualism". I think it's fair to interpret this
as a will for freedom. "Socialism itself will be of value because it
will lead to individualism."

He opposed the locking up of people because they had committed
crimes against property, arguing "a community is infinitely more
brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment rather than the
occasional occurrence of crime".

He aslo took up the case of possibly the most famous political
prisoners of his era. Along with George Bernard Shaw, he signed a
petition for the release of the Haymarket martyrs (anarchist trade
unionists executed for their role in the 8- hour day movement). He
saw through the lies and the rail-roading they were receiving in
that court in Chicago.

"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth
glancing at."

Wilde lived his life never once renouncing his beliefs or his
choices. His politics have been hidden over the years since he died
in 1900. He wrote his essay on 'The Soul of Man under Socialism'
over one hundred years ago, yet the ideas expressed are still
vitally relevant. He expressed the idea that we all exist and only
some of us really live. Some of us live because we're pushing for a
different world to the one that surrounds us. Read him and remember
"Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's
original virtue."

Dermot Sreenan

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 53 published in January

Thursday November 30 10:11 AM ET
Roses, Praise And Prayers for Oscar Wilde in Paris

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris marked the 100th anniversary of the death of
flamboyant writer Oscar Wilde on Thursday with praise for his
scandalous wit, red roses for his Irish charm and a memorial Mass
for the deathbed Catholic.

Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland led a dozen actors, artists and
other admirers at an emotional dawn ceremony at Pere Lachaise
cemetery, where the writer was buried after dying in a Left Bank
hotel on November 30, 1900.

A hearty breakfast for family and fans at Dublin's embassy followed,
where Holland said the Irish and British ambassadors present
reflected Wilde's Dublin roots and his adult fame at Oxford and in
the theaters and salons of London.

About 50 people attended Mass at the Catholic church whose priest
administered the last rites to a repentant Wilde as he lay dying
from an ear infection that had spread to his brain.

Small groups of admirers turned up at his grave during the morning,
leaving bouquets of flowers or a single red rose under the naked
marble angle carved into his imposing tombstone.

Others gathered at midday in L'Hotel, the former Hotel d'Alsace, to
raise a glass to Wilde in the room where he died aged 46.

``There are still so many people who revere him, curse him,
criticize him, laugh at his plays,'' said Holland, who launched a
new French-language edition of Wilde's sayings on Wednesday.

``He runs the whole gamut of human emotions.''


The French press also marked the day, with both the conservative Le
Figaro and left-leaning Le Monde running full page reviews of
Wilde's life and work and pictures of him in dandy attire with his
young lover Sir Alfred Douglas.

Wilde's plays, poems and wickedly sharp aphorisms about Victorian
society made him a celebrity in the 1880s and 1890s. But he saw his
high-flying career crash disastrously in 1895 when he was jailed for
two years for ``gross indecency.''

While in prison, he expressed deep remorse for wasting his genius on
an extravagant life and reflected on the parable of the Prodigal Son
-- the Gospel about forgiving a wayward son which was read at the
Mass in Saint Joseph's Church.

During the service, Holland read from De Profundis, the long letter
Wilde wrote in prison reflecting on his life and revealing a deeply
spiritual side to his complex personality.

``Oscar Wilde knew only too well his human weaknesses and flaws of
character, and yet sighed repeatedly for some things deeper in
life,'' said Father Thomas Scanlon, pastor of Saint Joseph's, in his
sermon. ``In prison, he speaks of becoming a deeper man through

Among others attending the service were British actors Sir Donald
Sinden and Steven Berkoff and playwright Sir David Hare.

``Garden Of Eros'' At Graveside

Among the early visitors to the writer's grave was a man who calmly
sat down on the damp ground to read Wilde's poem ``The Garden of

A young French woman visiting the grave said she had made the
five-hour train journey from Mulhouse near the German border just to
be in Paris for the day.

``I started reading ``The Picture of Dorian Gray'' and it was so
mysterious I read his biography. He lived such an amazing life, I
just had to come,'' she said.


Thursday November 30 9:47 AM ET
Paris Marks 100th Anniversary of Oscar Wilde Death

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS (Reuters) - In an ironic triumph that Oscar Wilde would have
savored, admirers ranging from actors and gay activists to Catholic
priests are all marking Thursday's 100th anniversary of the
flamboyant Irish writer's death in Paris.

Some of his fans would hardly have mixed in the Victorian age,
especially after Wilde was jailed for ``gross indecency'' stemming
from his love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.

But the passage of time has mellowed views on homosexuality, while
taking away none of the sparkle from the plays, poems, novels and
aphorisms that made Wilde famous.

``Oscar's fan club is a very broad church,'' remarked an organizer
of one of many events in Paris marking Wilde's death on November 30,
1900, in a Left Bank hotel.

In fact, St. Joseph's Church, the English-speaking Catholic parish
in the French capital, plans a memorial Mass on Thursday that will
be attended by Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland and several actors
and artists from London.

Despite his decadent reputation, Wilde flirted with the Church for
decades and had an Irish priest from St. Joseph's administer the
last rites the day before he died.

``The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone,'' he once
quipped. ``For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.''

Worldwide Fame And Shame

Wilde's 46-year journey from his Dublin home to his deathbed at the
Hotel d'Alsace on the rue des Beaux-Arts brought him first to
worldwide fame and then equally renowned shame.

A brilliant student at Dublin's Trinity College and Oxford in
England, he was the toast of London in the 1880s and 1890s, known as
much for his eccentric clothes as his successful plays.

In 1882, a nine-month lecture tour through the United States and
Canada made him a celebrity there long before he wrote ``The Picture
of Dorian Gray'' or ``The Importance of Being Earnest.''

His high-flying career crashed spectacularly in 1895 when he was
jailed for two years for his romance with Douglas.

After serving his sentence, Wilde went into exile in Paris where a
long-standing ear infection slowly spread to his brain. Doctors now
say this is what caused his death, not syphilis as was long
believed, even by his biographer Richard Ellmann.

On November 29, 1900, as he lay dying with two leeches on his
forehead to drain blood from his brain, a friend heeded Wilde's
long-standing request and summoned a priest.

``There was enough in his life to tell us this was no aberration by
a dying or frightened man,'' said Father Thomas Scanlon, the current
pastor of Saint Joseph's.

While in prison, Wilde regretted his extravagant ways but never
tried ``to reinvent his personality like modern politicians do when
they fall into disgrace,'' he noted.

Plays, Kisses And Prayers

The Paris commemorations highlight all these facets of Wilde's life.
Three theaters -- two in English, one in French -- are putting on
his plays and holding readings from his works.

Admirers have already started laying wreaths at his grave at Pere
Lachaise, the Paris cemetery for the famous.

Accompanied by relatives and friends, Wilde's grandson plans a
private ceremony at the imposing gravestone on Thursday morning,
followed by a breakfast hosted by the Irish embassy and then a
commemorative Mass at Saint Joseph's.

Gay activists, who have defaced the grave's naked marble angel with
kisses painted in lipstick, are also expected to make the pilgrimage
to honor the man they consider a martyr.

On Wednesday evening, Holland -- who has just brought out a new
collection of his grandfather's letters in London -- was due to
launch a French-language selection of Wilde's witticisms in a
ceremony at the hotel where he died.

About 60 fans were due there on Thursday evening for a private
party, including a visit to the death room which has just been
renovated in the style Wilde would have known.


"Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by
converting private property into public wealth, and substituting
co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper
condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material
wellbeing of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give
Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full
development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something
more is needed. What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is
Authoritarian; if there are Governments armed with economic power as
they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have
Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than
the first. At present, in consequence of the existence of private
property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very
limited amount of individualism. They are either under no necessity
to work for their living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of
activity that is really congenial to them and gives them pleasure.
These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men
of culture - in a word, the real men, the men who have realised
themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation.
Upon the other hand, there are a great many people who, having no
private property of their own, and being always on the brink of
sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden,
to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are
forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want.
These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or
charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture, or refinement in
pleasures, or joy of life. From their collective force Humanity
gains much in material prosperity. But it is only the material
result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself
absolutely of no importance. He is merely the infinitesimal atom of
a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed,
prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient."

To read the full text of Man's Soul Under Socialism,
go to:
"Information About Anarchism
Human organization without hierarchy."

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