SOCIALISM: COLLECTIVIST SOLUTIONS

Though Liberalism and Conservatism would remain the chief political ideologies in Europe during the 19th century, this period saw the emergence of another modern political doctrine - Socialism. Socialism would influence much of the class politics of the late-19th and 20th centuries, and from the very first it was viewed as a threat by more traditional observers. Socialism's most distinctive feature was its collectivist ideology, which contrasted sharply with individualism. Whereas Liberalism and many forms of Conservatism took the individual as the most important political unit, aiming to protect individual rights, Socialism was more concerned with bettering the political and social conditions of society as a whole. Individual interests were not permitted to interfere with this larger goal. The Socialist attitude received some support from Pope Leo XIII in his Rerum Novarum of 1891, in which he decried the evils of modern capitalism and argued against the replacement of family and community loyalties with individual interests. This was a strong attack against Liberalism and laissez-faire economics.

Today, after the communist revolutions of the 20th century, there is a tendency to equate Socialism with Marxist Communism. But 19th-century Socialism had many facets. At this point, Socialism was a response to the every-man-for-himself philosophy of capitalism. Instead, it emphasized collectivist action, some form of worker ownership, and a redistribution of property and wealth.

Pre-Proletarian Legacies

The goals and ideals of Socialism had their beginnings in 19th-century pre-industrial movements and organizations, which cultivated in workers a keen sense of common identity.

Under the Old Regime in France, journeymen (i.e., middle-level craftsmen in the guild system) who had hoped to become guild masters but instead found themselves in a precarious social and economic position had organized themselves into associations called compagnonnages. These networks of journeymen had been illegal under the Old Regime and had been previously banned by the Le Chapelier law of 1791, which was still in effect after 1815. However, the compagnonnages reunited after the Restoration. They combined the former democratic ideologies of the French Revolution with the principles of collective action. In 1834, French workers in Lyon, Paris, and other cities went on strike, even resorting to violence to express their economic and political dissatisfaction.

The roots of the Socialist movement in England also extended back to a pre-proletariat period. Rather than journeymen, however, it was the radicals of the 1790s who forged the foundation for the later movement. The English radicals had been inspired by 17th-century social movements, political works such as Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man (1791-1792), and the contemporary unfolding of the revolution in France. In addition to political democracy, they had also demanded guarantees of minimal social rights. Moreover, the increasing pace of industrialization, repression by the state, and the limitations of the 1832 electoral reform all combined to strengthen the radical tradition. The late 1830s and 1840s saw the development of a mass movement known as Chartism, which demanded an end to political corruption and the introduction of democratic reforms. Chartism was not exactly a Socialist movement, but it was a very important early, mass-political movement that tapped into the political energies of the working class. Followers of Chartism all signed a charter calling for political reforms such as the expansion of the vote and salaries for members of Parliament.

Parliament ultimately rejected Chartist demands, and the movement dissipated without resorting to violence. But Chartism was an important episode in the history of mass, working-class politics. The Charter of 1839 gained 1.3 million signatures; the Charter of 1842 had a full 3.3 million! In a country of 20 to 22 million, the Charter represented a significant voice.

Ideologies And Utopias

In addition to these emerging traditions of mass, working-class political action, the history of early Socialism also includes an odd collection of collectivist ideologies and utopian plans. Some of these would prove very influential.

As early as the Directory phase of the French Revolution, the most radical revolutionary elements in France had bypassed the Jacobin call for individual democracy, setting forth even more extreme demands such as the abolition of private property and the legal guarantee of social and economic equality. Repression - first under the Jacobins, then under the Directory - drove these elements to underground activity. In 1796, the Directory suppressed the best known of these radical groups, the so-called "Conspiracy of Equals" led by Francois Noel Babeuf (whose nom de guerre was Gracchus, after the reformer of the Roman Republic); the aim of this particular plot was the overthrow of the Directory, and the creation of a proto-communist society of commonly-owned land. When caught, Babeuf and his fellow conspirators were beheaded. The Conspiracy of Equals has been claimed by the Left as one of the early expressions of socialism, though its social goals were not really as radical as some had portrayed them. Nevertheless, Babeuf and his Italian comrade-in-arms Buonarotti inspired a post-Napoleonic generation of proto-communist revolutionary conspirators throughout Europe. Their legacy lay in a tradition of clandestine Socialist or anarchist activity that took firm root on the fringes of European and American protest movements. It would resurface in the 19th-century anarchism of Italy, France, and Spain, as well as in Lenin's Bolshevik party in exile before 1917, and eventually among terrorists in Germany and Italy in the 1970s. Among the most influential anarchists of the 19th century was Michael Bakunin (1814-1876), a Russian who sought to solve "The Social Question" by destabilizing society.

The 19th-century French nobleman and social visionary Count de Saint-Simon also opposed private property. Rather than focusing on absolute social equality, however, he advocated a planned society and the potential for industrial growth under the leadership of scientists, engineers, and captains of industry. For Saint-Simon, there was a crucial distinction between the industriels (the socially useful) and the oisifs (the social parasites). Parasites included the traditional nobility, court circles, and clergy, all of whom lived off accumulated wealth and privilege. Saint-Simon's followers, called the Saint-Simonians, achieved quite some influence among bureaucrats and businessmen.

In contrast to Babeuf and Saint-Simon, several utopian planners managed to inspire small-scale attempts to implement collectivist ideals. The cotton-mill owner Robert Owen, appalled by the working conditions in his own factory, created a model community at his New Lanark plant in Scotland. He paid high wages, reduced hours, set up company stores to provide for workers' needs, and even attempted to improve the moral and physical habits of his laborers. In America, Owen established a utopian colony at New Harmony, Indiana, which collapsed after five years due to internal strife. Though they proved to be impractical, Owen's communities were important milestones in the history of Socialist utopias.

Similarly, the Frenchman Charles Fourier advocated the establishment of small units of society that he called Phalanstères or phalansteries. Each unit would consist of 1,620 members who would perform the work most suited to their natural inclinations. Though no Phalanstères were successfully set up in France, followers of Fourier in America, including intellectuals of the Boston area, established Brook Farm in Massachusetts. Like New Harmony, Brook Farm broke up after only a few years due to internal dissension and the inability of local writers, ministers, and essayists to succeed at farming.

In the 1840s, German intellectual Karl Marx was just one of a diverse group of socialist thinkers. But after the publication of his Communist Manifesto (written in collaboration with Friedrich Engels) in 1848, Marx's brand of communism assumed a leading position on the far Left, which gained momentum as the decade progressed. Marx was a philosophy student at the University of Berlin, and worked for many years as a journalist. In the 1840s, he spent a great deal of time in Paris, immersing himself in Socialist theory and economics. Slowly, he began to develop what he called scientific Socialism based on his extensive study of history and economics. Marx's brand of Socialism gained adherents not simply because of his fiery rhetoric, but also because he provided a solid historical justification for Socialism. Unlike other Socialist thinkers, who argued that Socialism would gain supporters simply by its rational superiority, Marx claimed that the course of history demonstrated that Socialism was inevitable.

According to Marx, human societies had progressed through a series of economic stages determined by the forces of production, each one calling forth the next through an unavoidable conflict between old and new forces of production. Thus, the slave societies of the ancient world had given rise to feudalism, which in turn had been supplanted by bourgeois capitalism. Marx further argued that capitalism was planting the seeds of its own destruction by first creating - and then increasingly oppressing and impoverishing - the factory proletariat, its most numerous class. Marx claimed that capitalists did not exploit workers because they harbored evil intentions. Rather, the logic of competition and profit accumulation inherent to capitalism tended to keep wages at the minimal level necessary to physically sustain the proletariat. According to Marx, cycles of expansion, overproduction, factory closings, and consolidation would eventually lead workers to seize the means of production, which they rightfully owned through their labor, finally resulting in a dictatorship of the proletariat. A Socialist world without private property ownership or inequality would be the final stage of history. It was this utopian ideology - Marxist communism - that would rise to dominance in the Socialist world over the course of the 19th century. (What are some strengths and weaknesses of Marxism? What are its assumptions?)

Socialist Organizations

While Marx's ideas continued to gain headway after 1848, other Socialist thinkers and activists competed for workers' allegiance by organizing workers' associations and political parties. Marx's most important competitors were Proudhon, Bakunin, and Lassalle.

Unlike Marx, who envisioned a centrally led working class, the French laborer-turned-thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon insisted on the local self-organization and initiative of workers. Proudhon's "mutualism" did not aim to gain political control of the state, but rather promoted trade unions and worker cooperatives. He envisioned production organized around workshops and politics reduced to a minimum. Proudhon's oft-repeated slogan "Property is Theft" terrified property holders. His vision of decentralized political power emanating from independent units of producers would come to be called anarcho-syndicalism.

Anarcho-syndicalism became an important movement within 19th-century Socialism. Even after Proudhon's death in the mid-1860s, anarcho-syndicalism continued to be a major rival to Marxist centralism and political dogmatism. Anarcho-syndicalists gained particular strength in France and other Latin countries, where the factory system was less entrenched than it was in England. Among its supporters were craftsmen such as Swiss watchmakers, organizers of rural labor in Spain, and even miners and forestry workers in the American West. On the international level, anarcho-syndicalists organized congresses in the 1870s to compete with the last meeting of the First International, congresses dominated by Marxist Socialists. Locally, the Proudhonists formed the Bourses de Travail, labor organizations through which workers sought to advance their interests.

Proudon was not the only challenger to Marx in the Socialist world. The Russian émigré Mikhail Bakunin also opposed Marx's vision of a hierarchical organization and ideological purity. Bakunin favored local initiative and called for the destruction of state power, which he viewed as a threat to pure freedom. Unlike his mentor Proudhon, however, anarchist Bakunin emphasized the role of violence. He spoke openly of "creative destruction" and advocated terrorism and assassinations. Bakunin's Italian follower Fanelli helped organize anarchist cells in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Eventually, anarchists would be responsible for the murder of many prominent political leaders, including the Spanish premier Antonio Canovas del Castillo (1897), the Austo-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth (1898), the Italian King Umberto I (1900), and the American President William McKinley (1901).

Another important, non-Marxist Socialist was the German Ferdinand Lassalle. Originally an ally of Marx, Ferdinand Lassalle became increasingly disenchanted with Marx's political tactics from the 1850s onward. Lassalle called for greater internal party democracy, rejecting Marx's doctrine of class war. Further, he encouraged close cooperation with the state, favoring a plan of working within the system. For a brief time in 1862-1863, Lassalle even entered into negotiations with newly appointed Prussian Chancellor Bismarck to work out a plan for granting universal suffrage. In 1863, Lassalle founded the All German Workers' Association, which would merge with another Socialist group twelve years later to become the modern German Social Democratic Party.

Workers throughout Europe discussed the differences among these various Socialist approaches. The earliest pan-Europe working-class organization was the First International, whose first meeting was held in London in 1864. Yearly congresses met thereafter in Belgium or Switzerland. The central conflict overshadowing the First International was the ideological dispute between the Marxists and the anarcho-syndicalists who followed Proudon and Bakunin.

In 1872, Marx managed to have the anarcho-syndicalists expelled from the International, which subsequently lost its vigor and ceased to meet. Furthermore, after the suppression of the Paris Commune with its mix of Marxist and anarchist factions (see below), the 1870s became a period of labor setbacks and discouragement. The First International fell victim to its internal divisions and a general demoralization that resulted as a reaction to the difficulties in organizing workers for political action. Finally, between 1863 and 1906, trade union movements spurred the organization of modern working-class parties in major European countries.

As mentioned earlier, Germany saw the formation of Lasalle's All German Worker's Association in 1863. Six years later, loyal Marxists Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel founded the Social Democratic Workingmen's Association at Eisenach. The two parties merged in 1875 to become the German Social Democratic Party. Though Bismarck banned the German Social Democratic Party in 1878, it regained legal status in 1890. From that point on, the Party continued to increase its membership and to strengthen its share of the vote. Today, it is one of the most important parties in Germany.

The relative success of English unions in achieving their demands had made the formation of a working-class party seem less urgent. Working-class interests had been represented in Parliament by "Lib-Labs," workers or pro-labor spokesmen elected as part of the Liberal coalition. In 1900, a Labour Representation Committee, consisting of union and Socialist group representatives, was formed in order to prepare for the elections that year. The Committee's poor showing, along with the Taff Vale judicial decision in 1901 - which made unions responsible for a company's losses during a strike - convinced the unions that they needed more effective political representation. The result was the formation of the Labour Party, which elected its first representatives to Parliament in 1906. The Labour Party has gone on to become one of the biggest political parties in England. The current British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is a representative of this party.

The Paris Commune

Although French intellectuals had contributed greatly to the development of theoretical Socialism, French Socialism itself was greatly weakened as a political movement by the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. In 1870 and 1871, France and Prussia fought a war that went very badly for the French. The French suffered humiliating defeats. Paris was subjected to a devastating siege, and in the end, the country lost a considerable amount of territory. Civil unrest erupted in the wake of these disasters. A revolutionary commune was established to govern Paris, and among its leaders were men much influenced by the Jacobinism of the old French Revolution. Socialist followers of Proudhon also numbered among the Communards. As the conservative republican government laid siege to Paris, the Commune established Socialist-inspired reforms. It was, in many ways, the height of power for 19th-century Socialism. However, the Commune soon collapsed. In May of 1871, republican forces answering to Adolphe Thiers invaded Paris and repressed the Paris Commune. The crackdown was exceptionally bloody: 25,000 Parisians, perhaps more, were executed.

The violent end of the Paris Commune (1871) had weakened the Socialists and prevented the emergence of a united Socialist party. At the turn of the century, the liberal French government's offer to give a Socialist deputy a post in the Cabinet further divided the movement between those who wanted to participate in government and those who rejected all collaboration. Finally, in 1905, under pressure from the Second International, French Socialists came together in the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO).

During the course of the 19th century, a Socialist movement had come into existence, growing rapidly and resulting in the establishment of Socialist parties throughout Britain and the continent. In the early years of the new century, however, European Socialists remained fundamentally divided over whether to cooperate with reform politicians from the non-Socialist Left. It was a question that would continue to plague them as the 20th century unfolded.