When Thomas Dixon (1864-1946) published Comrades in 1909, American socialism was becoming increasingly popular. In the next presidential election the Socialist Party candidate received a disquieting 6 percent of the vote. The election, however, was won by Dixon’s old friend, Woodrow Wilson, who shared many of Dixon’s beliefs - - not only about politics but also about race relations. Although he had a long writing career, Dixon is best known today as the author of The Clansman (1905), which was later made into one of Wilson’s favorite movies, The Birth of a Nation.
Comrades by Thomas Dixon, Jr. Doubleday, Page and Co. (1909), 319 pp.
Colonel Worth, a San Francisco mining tycoon, is having a heated discussion about socialists with his son Norman. The colonel wants to shoot them. His son, however, is curious and decides to attend a rally led by famed agitator Herman Wolf and his “affinity wife” Catherine. There he is won over by the featured speaker, beautiful and eloquent Barbara Bozenta. Norman concocts a scheme to set up a socialist colony on one of the islands off the Santa Barbara coast. His father, pleased that his son is showing some initiative but convinced the plan will fail, secretly funds the project.
Dixon doesn’t care much for the “to each according to his need” half of the socialist slogan. But he focuses his attack on “from each according to his ability.” Regulating the labor market will lead to slavery, he believes, or at least it will in a socialist system without democratic governance. Which is just what Norman and his associates set up in their island utopia. Readers will easily see what’s going to go wrong. And weirdly that’s what did go wrong in the Soviet Union. The story could be a parable of Leninism and Stalinism, except those isms didn’t yet exist when it was written. As much as Dixon dislikes socialism, he is fairly sympathetic to the socialists themselves. The book, in fact, is balanced enough to warrant a place on supplemental reading lists for American history courses.