Marxism can be defined as a philosophical, political and economic world view based on three sources: the philosophy of materialism, the evaluation of political economy and socialist politics (Lenin 1913). Marxism gave socialism a specific role in displacing capitalism to make way for communism; it was seen as the first level of communism. Although Marxism is thought of as a communist doctrine, it had strong influences on socialism, for example putting forward the idea that the only way of successfully running a socialist system is by state or common control of the means of production.
Marxism gave socialism a fresh voice and brought it forward into the 20th Century. The economic origins of socialism lie in the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Industrial Revolution caused a marked change in the economy of countries that had previously relied on manual labour on farms for prosperity. A sudden growth in wealth of the middle classes who owned the factories or ran them was a sharp contrast to what these previously working class people had known. Socialism was a reaction against this wealth and the unfettered growth of industrial capitalism.
The rise of capitalism as a result of the industrial revolution led thinkers such as Marx, as we have seen; setting capitalism directly against socialism and concluding the only way to achieve social justice was to overthrow what they believed to be capitalist oppression. However the Industrial Revolution produced another type of socialist, reformist socialists. Workers suddenly found themselves in terrible and often inhumane conditions both at work and at home, with longer hours and low pay, they therefore began to turn to more extreme political parties largely those with Marxist views.
However, in the late 19th Century, the direct result of these terrible conditions was the forming of groups such as trade unions who sought to protect the rights, both economical and social, of its members. Unlike that which had been previously seen, socialist groups began to reform from their revolutionary and fundamentalist ways, and concentrated on change through legal channels as the working classes became further integrated into industrial society (Heywood 2007:100).
Eduard Bernstein, a German social democrat, is often seen as the founder of this new reformist socialism following the publishing of a critique of Marxism in his book Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus (1899). Hence forth socialists moved into one of two main spheres of thought; revolutionary in the socialists, or reformist socialists. The political origins of socialism prove quite difficult to separate from what we consider to be the economic and philosophical origins. However, a clear starting point is the rise of capitalism, against which socialism was fundamentally opposed.
The French Revolution (1789-1799), as a result of the enlightenment saw France’s absolute monarchical system of rule radically changed followed by a long period of political upheaval in France. A move away from the previous feudal system allowed the working classes to move away from poverty and therefore climb the social ladder. The French Revolution resulted in the “triumph of the bourgeois” (Lefebvre 1967); a class defined by the ownership of private property, the fundamental idea of capitalism. The resulting rise of capitalism from the French Revolution it can be argued formed the basic foundations against which socialism would rise.
The bourgeoisie were defined by Marx as the class who held the means of production for their own benefit, and therefore directly against his socialist movement (Marx1967). This subsequent rise of capitalism was criticized by many people at the time, including Francois-Noel Babeuf who believed “the precious principle of equality” had fallen by the wayside in the face of capitalism and the only way back to this socialist ideal was the abolishment of private property (Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia).
Following the French Revolution the proletariat fought for equality and in the wake of the Franco Prussian War of 1871 the Paris Commune was established, a socialist reformist state in Paris. Although it did not last long it was a sign of the strength socialism now held and the first socialist party was established in France in 1879 called the Fi?? di?? ration des travailleurs socialistes de France. We can move directly from the French Revolution and the rise of the bourgeoisie to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism.
The Industrial Revolution, like the French Revolution, resulted in the rise of a middle classes who began to amass wealth through the ownership private of property. During this period a “competitive labor market (was) established in England” and the result was industrial capitalism (Polanyi 1944:87). The rise of capitalism, as during the French Revolution, had its critics, however pressure on the government from the middle and working classes caused a period of political change. Turning points in political terms towards a more socialist system of government in the UK were the three reform acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884.
Each act extended voting rights, eventually to one in five working class men, and therefore gave them a political power they had not previously enjoyed; a socialist government now became a more viable option with the support of the lower classes. The permanent establishment of Trade Unions through the Trade Union Congress in 1868 was a major step for socialism in the UK as “the Trade Unions represent the first weapons of the working class in the struggle against Capitalist interests” (Murphy 1936).
The philosophical, political and economic origins of socialism all, for the most part, lie in the period of the 18th and 19th centuries. Although philosophers such as Plato and More had explored the idea of socialism in their early works, it was not until much later that socialism moved away from a solely intellectual idea to a realistic one. Following the enlightenment, the questioning of established political views became acceptable in a way previously unseen. A number of socialist doctrines appeared which supported both revolutionary, Marx, and reformist, Bernstein, paths to power.
The French revolution made way for a new political era away from feudalism and along with the industrial revolution helped the rise of capitalism. As a result of all these factors socialism as we know it today was born.
Bibliography Bernestein, Eduard (1899) Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus (Stuttgart: J H W Dietz) Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia (2007) (London: Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia, Inc. ) Heywood, Andrew (2007) Political Ideologies: An Introduction 4th edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).
Lefebvre, Georges (1967) The Coming of the French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press) Lenin, Vladamir Ilyich (1997) Lenin’s Collected Works volume 19 (Moscow: Progress Publishers) Marx, Karl (1967) The class struggles in France 2nd edition (New York: New York Labor News) Murphy, J. T (1936) Trade Unions and Socialism (London :The Hereford Times, Ltd. ) Polanyi, Karl (1944) The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press) 1″ Plato Quotations” < http://www. quotationspage. com/quote/24209. html> (13 Nov 2009).