History of socialism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Marxism and the socialist movement

The French Revolution of 1789, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote, "abolished feudal property in favour of bourgeois property". The French Revolution was preceded and influenced by the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Social Contract famously began, "Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains." Rousseau is credited with influencing socialist thought, but it was François-Noël Babeuf, and his Conspiracy of Equals, who is credited with providing a model for left-wing and communist movements of the 19th century.

Marx and Engels drew from these socialist or communist ideas born in the French revolution, as well as from the German philosophy of GWF Hegel, and English political economy, particularly that of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Marx and Engels developed a body of ideas which they called scientific socialism, more commonly called Marxism. Marxism comprised a theory of history (historical materialism) as well as a political, economic and philosophical theory.

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, written in 1848 just days before the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote, "The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property." Unlike those Marx described as utopian socialists, Marx determined that, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". While utopian socialists believed it was possible to work within or reform capitalist society, Marx confronted the question of the economic and political power of the capitalist class, expressed in their ownership of the means of producing wealth (factories, banks, commerce - in a word, 'Capital'). Marx and Engels formulated theories regarding the practical way of achieving and running a socialist system, which they saw as only being achieved by those who produce the wealth in society, the toilers, workers or "proletariat", gaining common ownership of their workplaces, the means of producing wealth.

Marx believed that capitalism could only be overthrown by means of a revolution carried out by the working class: "The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority." Marx believed that the proletariat was the only class with both the cohesion, the means and the determination to carry the revolution forward. Unlike the utopian socialists, who often idealised agrarian life and deplored the growth of modern industry, Marx saw the growth of capitalism and an urban proletariat as a necessary stage towards socialism.

For Marxists, socialism or, as Marx termed it, the first phase of communist society, can be viewed as a transitional stage characterized by common or state ownership of the means of production under democratic workers' control and management, which Engels argued was beginning to be realised in the Paris Commune of 1871, before it was overthrown. Socialism to them is simply the transitional phase between capitalism and "higher phase of communist society". Because this society has characteristics of both its capitalist ancestor and is beginning to show the properties of communism, it will hold the means of production collectively but distributes commodities according to individual contribution. When the socialist state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) naturally withers away, what will remain is a society in which human beings no longer suffer from alienation and "all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly." Here "society inscribe[s] on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!" For Marx, a communist society entails the absence of differing social classes and thus the end of class warfare. According to Marx and Engels, once a socialist society had been ushered in, the state would begin to "wither away", and humanity would be in control of its own destiny for the first time.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "History of socialism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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