Socialism and Its History

Socialism is the name for a varied group of political theories and movements. Socialist ideas and agitation began in the early nineteenth century in England and France. The period between 1820s and1850s was marked by plethora of diverse and distinguished theorists. It was also marked by the foundation of co-operative societies, model utopian communities, and the advocacy of scheme to be put into action by governments.


Socialism was brought into existence by the rise of industrial production and the intensification of wage labor in handicraft enterprises. Prior to the large-scale existence of workshops, factories, and machines, most radical conceptions of reorganization of a society, were agrarian. Socialist doctrines sought to “organize” society in order to replace the anarchy of market place and large-scale poverty with an orderly system based on lesser or greater degrees of central control, co-operation, and mutuality. Organization offered a rational solution to the “social question” the problems of mass: poverty, and poor urban living conditions. Most of the early socialists were middle-class reformers, concerned philanthropists who sought to better the lot of poor by bringing change in social organization rather than charitable works.

Marx and Engles Theory of Socialism

In the period between 1848 and 1871, two socialists made radical attempts to recast socialist theory. They attacked the utopianism of their predecessors, refusing to promulgate schemes of social reform. In essence, they argued that:
o   The class struggle is the objective basis of socialist victory; socialism is identified with the proletariat and its struggle to eliminate exploitation and oppression as well.
o   The class struggle arises from the system of social production and that the development of forces of production would secure the objective basis for a planned economy.
o   The overthrow of exploiting class an its ruling machinery, the state, would usher in a new period of popular self-government in which the domination of man by man would be replaced by the administration of things.
These socialist insisted on the necessity of revolution and the seizure of power by working class but did recognize that universal suffrage might facilitate the downfall of capitalism.

Actually, it did nothing of the sort. Between 1870 and 1914, the institutional foundations of modern socialism were developed in Britain and Germany. Universal suffrage created the modern political party, to mobilize the mass electorate. In Britain and Germany, large-scale industrialism was accompanied by the growth of trade unionism. The British Labor Party was created to facilitate the parliamentary representation of trade unions.
Socialism in Britain and in Germany:

In the period of 1870 to 1914 in Britain and Germany, central state and municipal authorities came to provide to administer and to organize an increasing range of activities, mass schooling, social insurance, public health, sewerage, and electric light and so on.

This administration of mass needs and utilities provided another base for socialist advocacy and practice. British syndicalism perished in the same period, while institutional unionism survived and flourished.

Socialism in Europe

Since 1945, socialist and social democracy parties have participated in government. In Scandinavia, UK, and Germany, socialists became accepted parties of government, and in the Swedish case ruled uninterruptedly for over thirty years. In this period, traditional socialist ideas, centering on public owned, planned production, suffered at the expense of social democratic views of redistribution and welfare in a state-managed full employment capitalist system. Social democratic ideas have had to complete with a revitalized socialist fundamentalism in the United Kingdom. At the same time throughout Europe, many intellectuals have begun to rethink the goals of socialism. Many are chastened by the experience of centrally planned production and distribution in the USSR, but also by the consequences of the growth of statist welfare-ism in Western Europe. Many favor the sort of anti-authoritarian, decentralizing and self-management views advocated by Cole and Guild Socialists. The problem with much of this rethinking is the failure to provide a new political base. Socialist doctrine has entered a period of diversity and productivity comparable to the 1820s-50s, its institutional supports, however, remain those developed in the period 1870-1914.

Socialism has been treated as an exclusively European phenomenon. Socialism in the United States, having growth spectacularly between the formation of the American Socialist Party in 1901 and 1912 thereafter it underwent a process of decline such that in 1938 it had been reduced to a more 7,000 members. This failure is attributable to many causes but most important is the character of American trade unionism, which made it impossible to create the links between a united union movement and a socialist political party so important in Germany and England. Socialist doctrines in the “Third World”, where are not modeled on those of Europe, have tried to offer a vision of social organization different from that based on large-scale industry, as in the case of “African Socialism” Julis Nyerere offered perhaps the most systematic version of this alternative to European ideas. Some commentators would contend that not only have such doctrines been a dismal in failure practice, but also that as a doctri9ne they are better conceived as a variant of agrarian populism. Socialism is an outgrowth of advance industrialism but is by no mean an inevitable one.