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The term socialism is commonly used to refer both to an ideology--a
comprehensive set of beliefs or ideas about the nature of human society and its
future desirable state--and to a state of society based on that ideology.
Socialists have always claimed to stand above all for the values of equality,
social justice, cooperation, progress, and individual freedom and happiness, and
they have generally sought to realize these values by the abolition of the
private-enterprise economy (see CAPITALISM) and its replacement by "public
ownership," a system of social or state control over production and distribution.
Methods of transformation advocated by socialists range from constitutional
change to violent revolution.
ORIGINS OF SOCIALISM
Some scholars believe that the basic principles of socialism were derived from
the philosophy of Plato, the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, and some parts of
the New Testament (the Sermon on the Mount, for example). Modern socialist
ideology, however, is essentially a joint product of the 1789 French Revolution
and the Industrial Revolution in England--the word socialist first occurred in
an English journal in 1827. These two great historical events, establishing
democratic government in France and the conditions for vast future economic
expansion in England, also engendered a state of incipient conflict between the
property owners (the bourgeoisie) and the growing class of industrial workers;
socialists have since been striving to eliminate or at least mitigate this
conflict. The first socialist movement emerged in France after the Revolution
and was led by Francois BABEUF, Filippo Buonarrotti (1761-1837), and Louis
Auguste BLANQUI; Babeuf\'s revolt of 1796 was a failure. Other early socialist
thinkers, such as the comte de SAINT-SIMON, Charles FOURIER, and Etienne CABET
in France and Robert OWEN and William Thompson (c.1785-1833) in England,
believed in the possibility of peaceful and gradual transformation to a
socialist society by the founding of small experimental communities; hence,
later socialist writers dubbed them with the label utopian.
THE EMERGENCE OF MARXISM
In the mid-19th century, more-elaborate socialist theories were developed, and
eventually relatively small but potent socialist movements spread. The German
thinkers Karl MARX and Friedrich ENGELS produced at that time what has since
been generally regarded as the most sophisticated and influential doctrine of
socialism. Marx, who was influenced in his youth by German idealist philosophy
and the humanism of Ludwig Andreas FEUERBACH, believed that human beings, and
particularly workers, were "alienated" in modern capitalist society; he argued
in his early writings that the institution of private property would have to be
completely abolished before the individual could be reconciled with both society
and nature. His mature doctrine, however, worked out in collaboration with
Engels and based on the teachings of classical English political economy, struck
a harder note, and Marx claimed for it "scientific" status.
The first important document of mature MARXISM, the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848),
written with Engels, asserted that all known human history is essentially the
history of social classes locked in conflict. There has in the past always been
a ruling and an oppressed class. The modern, or bourgeois, epoch, characterized
by the capitalist mode of production with manufacturing industry and a free
market, would lead according to Marx and Engels to the growing intensity of the
struggle between capitalists and workers (the proletariat), the latter being
progressively impoverished and as a result assuming an increasingly
Marx further asserted, in his most famous work, Das KAPITAL, that the capitalist
employer of labor had, in order to make a profit, to extract "surplus value"
from his employees, thereby exploiting them and reducing them to "wage-slavery."
The modern state, with its government and law-enforcing agencies, was solely the
executive organ of the capitalist class. Religion, philosophy, and most other
forms of culture likewise simply fulfilled the "ideological" function of making
the working class contented with their subordinate position. Capitalism, however,
as Marx claimed, would soon and necessarily grind to a halt: economic factors,
such as the diminishing rate of profit, as well as the political factor of
increasing proletarian "class consciousness" would result in the forcible
overthrow of the existing system and its immediate replacement by the
"dictatorship of the proletariat." This dictatorship would soon be superseded by
the system of socialism, in which private ownership is abolished and all people
are remunerated according to their work, and socialism would lead eventually to
COMMUNISM, a society of abundance characterized by the complete disappearance of
the state, social classes, law, politics, and all forms of compulsion. Under
this ideal condition goods would be distributed according to need, and the unity
of all humankind would be assured because of elimination of greed.
VARIETIES OF EUROPEAN SOCIALISM
Marxist ideas made a great impact on European socialist movements. By the second
half of the
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Economic ideologies, Socialism, Political ideologies, Anti-capitalism, Karl Marx, Marxism, Social democracy, Communism, Dictatorship of the proletariat, The Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels, Socialist mode of production
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