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Rise of Socialist Ideas upto Marx and Spread of Marxian Socialism- Part I

Rise of Socialist Ideas upto Marx and Spread of Marxian Socialism- Part I

Socialism

  • Socialism is a social, economic and political doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources.
  • Socialism is characterised by social ownership and/or social control of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system.
    • “Social ownership” may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these.
  • According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another.
    • Everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it.
    • Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members.
    • This conviction puts socialism in opposition to capitalism, which is based on private ownership of the means of production and allows individual choices in a free market to determine how goods and services are distributed. Capitalism is based on principle of production for profit and accumulation of capital.
  • Socialist movement was also a response and reaction to the evils of Industrial Revolution which was based on Industrial Capitalism (evils of Industrial Revolution is discussed in Industrial Revolution chapter).
    • During Industrial Revolution, Bourgeoise (middle class) rule had superseded the domination of absolute monarchies and aristocracy of the old regime.
    • When new governments were established, legislation restricting business enterprises was abolished and little, if anything, was done to improve conditions of the workers.
    • Socialism was, therefore, the Proletariat’s (workers’) answer to restrictions imposed on them by middle-class rule.
  • Criticism of Capitalism:
    • Socialists complain that capitalism necessarily leads to unfair and exploitative concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of the relative few who emerge victorious from free-market competition—people who then use their wealth and power to reinforce their dominance in society.
      • Because such people are rich, they may choose where and how to live, and their choices in turn limit the options of the poor.
      • As a result, terms such as individual freedom and equality of opportunity may be meaningful for capitalists but can only ring hollow for working people, who must do the capitalists’ bidding if they are to survive.
      • As socialists see it, true freedom and true equality require social control of the resources that provide the basis for prosperity in any society.
    • Criticism often made by socialists is that making money, or accumulation of capital, does not correspond to the satisfaction of demand.
    • The fundamental criterion for economic activity in capitalism is the accumulation of capital for reinvestment in production; this spurs the development of new, non-productive industries that don’t produce use-value and only exist to keep the accumulation process afloat, such as the spread of the financial industry, contributing to the formation of economic bubbles.
    • It is argued that the accumulation of capital generates waste through externalities that require costly corrective regulatory measures.
      • For Example: Excessive disparities in income distribution lead to social instability and require costly corrective measures in the form of redistributive taxation, which incurs heavy administrative costs while weakening the incentive to work, inviting dishonesty and increasing the likelihood of tax evasion while the corrective measures reduce the overall efficiency of the market economy.
  • Elements of socialism:
      • Anti-capitalism
      • Anti-private property, private enterprises
      • Anti-competition
      • Fraternity and focus on cooperation which represents substitute for competition
      • Focus on society rather than individual. It stands for higher interest of society rather than individual interest. It stands for collectivism and not individualism.
      • Social equality is given primacy
      • Common ownership/ public ownership/ social control
      • Association with some form of class politics and in general represent interest of working class
      • Need- i.e. material benefits to be distributed on the basis of need rather than merit/ work. (From each according to his ability to each according to his need- slogan popularised by Marx).
    • Above are common to all forms of socialism. Different socialist thinkers also gave some other distinct features in addition to above (which will be discussed).
  • Criticism of Socialism:
    • It only sees one aspect of equality which is distribution on the basis of need. It ignores other aspect of equality which is giving equal opportunity to everyone.
      • There are people who would not like to work and they take the share of those who work. It creates passivity and affect work culture. Hence it reduces individual incentives to work.
      • Critics of socialism have argued that in any society where everyone holds equal wealth there can be no material incentive to work because one does not receive rewards for a work well done.
    • Economic liberals view private enterprise, private ownership of the means of production, and the market exchange as central to conceptions of freedom and liberty.
    • Many says that socialism impedes technological progress due to stifled competition.
    • The more even distribution of wealth through the nationalization of the means of production advocated by certain socialists cannot be achieved without a loss of political, economic, and human rights.
      • To achieve control over means of production and distribution of wealth, it is necessary for such socialists to acquire significant powers of coercion.
      • It is argued that the road to socialism leads society to totalitarianism.
      • The absence of voluntary economic activity makes it too easy for repressive political leaders to grant themselves coercive powers.
    • Critics say that socialist systems based on economic planning are unfeasible because they lack the information to perform economic calculations in the first place, due to a lack of price signals and a free-price system, which are required for rational economic calculation.
    • Socialism aims at replacing capitalist system of economic organisation by one in which the interests of the wage earning class will be safeguarded by establishment of some form of collective ownership.
      • But how the transference from private to common ownership is to be effected, whether by political methods, or by direct action such as strikes and sabotage or by violence and revolution?
      • Who is to own the means of production, the state or an organised group of labours?
      • This lack of clarity is one of the criticism of Socialism. That is why there are many varieties of socialism.

Early Socialism

  • The origins of socialism as a political movement has its origins in the French Revolution of 1789 and the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, although it has precedents in earlier movements and ideas.
  • The French Revolution was preceded and influenced by the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Social Contract famously began with, “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.”
    • (More about Rousseau’s connection of Socialism is explained in separate chapter on Rousseau)
  • During French Revolution, all shorts of socialist ideas for the reconstruction of the society were born.
    • But the French Revolution, while it put an end to the autocratic rule of the French Emperor, did not usher in an era of equality in economic, social and political life.
    • Wide gap between the aims of the French Revolution and the actual conditions in France after Revolution created serious discontent among the people.
    • It led to an attempt to overthrow the existing government in France with a view of building a society based on socialist ideas.
    • This attempt was known as Babeuf’s Conspiracy or Conspiracy of Equals as it was work of Babeuf who had participated in French Revolution.
      • Baneuf, the ‘Father of Socialism‘, advocated
        • compulsory nationalisation of wealth,
        • social equality,
        • equality of results,
        • abolition of private property
        • According to him:
          • Nature gave everyone an equal right to the enjoyment of all goods.
          • In true society, there is no room for either rich or poor.
      • He popularised his ideas through his own newspapers and through many popular songs.
      • His newspaper “the tribune of the people” was best known for his advocacy for the poor and calling for a popular revolt against the Directory, the government of France.
      • He organised a secret society called Society of the Equals. The society planned an uprising called Conspiracy of the Equals in May 1796 to overthrow the Directory and replace it with an egalitarian and government based on socialist ideas.
      • But the government came to know of the plan and Babeuf was executed for his role in the Conspiracy of the Equals.
    • Rousseau is credited with influencing socialist thought, but it was Babeuf, and his Conspiracy of Equals, who is credited with providing a model for left-wing and communist movements of the 19th century. His ideas exercised an important influence on the growth of socialist movement.
  • In Britain, Thomas Paine proposed a detailed plan to tax property owners to pay for the needs of the poor in Agrarian Justice while Charles Hall wrote The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States, denouncing capitalism´s effects on the poor of his time.
  • Utopian Socialism:
    • Utopian socialism is a label used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought (Pre-Marxist Socialist Thought) as exemplified mainly by the work of Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen.
    • It is the name given to socialist aspiration in the era prior to the development of industrial capitalism.
    • The term “Utopian socialism” was introduced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto in 1848, referring to all socialist ideas that simply presented a vision and distant goal of an ethically just society as utopian.
    • Characteristics of Utopian Socialism:
      • It is often described as the presentation of visions for imaginary or futuristic ideal societies.
      • Utopian socialists believed it was possible to work within and reform capitalist society.
      • They emphasized the gradual transformation of society, most notably through the foundation of small, utopian communities.
      • They didn’t believe any form of class struggle or political revolution is necessary for socialism to emerge.
      • Utopian socialists believed that people of all classes can voluntarily adopt their plan for society if it is presented convincingly.
      • They felt their form of cooperative socialism can be established among like-minded people within the existing society.
      • They visualised a society free from exploitation of any kind and one in which all would contribute their best and would share the fruits of their labour.
    • Saint Simon, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier were famous utopian socialists.
    • Saint Simon (1760-1825):
      • One of the first utopian socialists was the French aristocrat Saint-Simon (born 1760, Paris).
      • Saint-Simon believed that history moves through a series of stages, each of which is marked by a particular arrangement of social classes and a set of dominant beliefs.
        • Thus, feudalism, with its landed nobility and monotheistic religion, was giving way to industrialism, a complex form of society characterized by its reliance on science, reason, and the division of labour.
        • In such circumstances, he argued, it makes sense to put the economic arrangements of society in the hands of its most knowledgeable and productive members, so that they may direct economic production for the benefit of all.
      • His ideas:
        • He did not call for public ownership of productive property, but he did advocate public control of property through central planning, in which scientists, industrialists, and engineers would anticipate social needs and direct the energies of society to meet them.
          • According to him, such a system would be more efficient than capitalism.
        • He stood for cooperation of labour and capital so that best result could be obtained.
          • He did not advocate class war. Capitalism was still in its infancy in his time and he did not notice the antagonism, jealousy, hatred between Bourgeoise and Proletariat.
        • He aimed at better “organisation” of society from moral and physical point of view.
        • He did not stand for the equality of remuneration. That was to depend on the capacity and occupation of worker.
        • According to him, state was manager of instruments of labour and its guiding principle was to be merit.
        • He advocated distribution of wealth by the State.
    • Charles Fourier (1772–1837):
      • Owen and Fourier relied on private initiative to build the model communities based on cooperation that they so hopefully expected to become widely copied examples for the reconstruction of society.
      • Charles Fourier, a French Socialist who started as a clerk of a small merchant. He was shocked by the throwing of thousands of tons of rice into sea because it was not sold on account of low prices.
      • He supported the cooperative movement in France and denounced the economic, social, political and moral disorders from which society suffered (poverty, war, matter of private property rights etc.)
      • According to him, modern society breeds selfishness, deception, and other evils because institutions such as the competitive market confine people to repetitive labour or a limited role in life and thus frustrate the need for variety. By setting people at odds with each other in the competition for profits the market in particular frustrates the desire for harmony. According to him, there could be harmony in society only if people lived in units large enough to allow all passions to operate freely.
        • Accordingly, Fourier envisioned a form of society that would be more in keeping with human needs and desires.
        • Such a “phalanstery,” as he called it, would be a largely self-sufficient community of about 1,600 people organized according to the principle of “attractive labour,” which holds that people will work voluntarily and happily if their work engages their talents and interests.
        • All tasks become tiresome at some point, however, so each member of the phalanstery would have several occupations, moving from one to another as his interest waned and waxed.
        • There was to be no government at all (he had tendency towards anarchism).
        • Fourier left room for private investment in his utopian community, but every member was to share in ownership, and inequality of wealth, though permitted, was to be limited.
      • He had no money to embark upon such ventures as Owen did. He kept on waiting for a person who would give him money for putting idea into practice but no one came.
        • Fourierism manifested itself in the middle of the 19th century where literally hundreds of communes (phalansteries) were founded on Fourierist principles in France, N. America, Mexico, S. America, Algeria, Yugoslavia, etc.”
        • Fourier inspired the founding of the communist community called La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas as well as several other communities within the United States of America.
      • He had ignored French Revolution.
    • Robert Owen (1771-1858):
      • Robert Owen, the father of British Socialism, was himself an industrialist.
      • Owen first attracted attention by operating textile mills in Scotland, that were both highly profitable and, by the standards of the day, remarkably humane.
        • Child labor and corporal punishment were abolished, and villagers were provided with decent homes, schools and evening classes, free health care, and affordable food.
        • He paid high wages to the labourers and still made a lot of profit.
      • He wrote about his ideas in his book A New View of Society, which was published in 1813.
      • He was in favour of unemployment relief through cooperative villages.
      • He put his views in his Report to the Committee for the Relief of the Manufacturing Poor in 1817 which was rejected by the parliamentary Committee.
      • Owen’s fundamental belief was that human nature is not fixed but formed.
        • If people are selfish, depraved, or vicious, it is because social conditions have made them so.
        • Change the conditions, he argued, and people will change; teach them to live and work together in harmony, and they will do so.
        • Thus, Owen set out in 1825 to establish a model of social organization, New Harmony, on land he had purchased in the U.S. state of Indiana.
          • This was to be a self-sufficient, cooperative community in which property was commonly owned.
          • This enterprise failed because:
            • mismanagement
            • undisciplined individualism and anarchism
            • his militant anti-church rationalism as he denounced the hypocrisy of organised religion and lost his former influence.
          • He lost 80% of his whole private fortune due to this failure.
      • After the failure of New Harmony, he turned his attention to other efforts to promote social cooperation—trade unions and cooperative businesses, in particular.
      • His name is closely connected with all the steps towards real progress with all social reform movements in England and all legislation in the interest of the working classes.
    • Other socialist thinkers:
      • Other socialists in France began to agitate and organize in the 1830s and ’40s; they included Louis Blanc, Louis-Auguste Blanqui, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
      • Louis Blanc:
        • Blanc, the author of The Organization of Labour, 1839, promoted a scheme of state-financed but worker-controlled “social workshops” that would guarantee work for everyone and lead gradually to a socialist society.
        • In his work The Organization of Labour:
          • Without political power, the labourers would not be able to improve their conditions. Hence he wanted to sweep away the Bourgeoise government of France and organise the government based on socialist ideas (he played leading tole in every uprising in Paris from 1830 to 1871).
          • According to Blanc, what proletarians need is the instruments of labor; it is the function of government to supply these.
          • Louis Blanc advocated “social workshops,” which the workers themselves would own and run with the financial assistance of the state and share profit.
            • This would eliminate private competition and ensure cooperative production and distribution.
            • He believed that the government would withdraw its support and supervision once the workshops were on their feet.
            • He hoped that as the workshops gradually spread throughout France, socialistic enterprise would replace private enterprise, private profits would vanish, and labor would emerge as the only class left in society, thereby achieving a classless society.
            • According to Blanc: “If we were to define our conception of the State, our answer would be that the State is the banker of the poor. The government would finance and supervise the purchase of productive equipment and the formation of workshops.”
          • He favoured ‘Right to Work’ i.e. right of every man to have work found for him by the state.
        • Much of Louis Blanc’s socialism was characteristically Utopian, particularly in his reliance on workers to make their own arrangements for communal living.
          • The real novelty of his plan lay in the role he assigned to the state and in the fact that he began to move socialism from philanthropy to politics, which was a step ahead of utopian socialism.
        • Saint Simon, with his stress on “organization,” presumably meant to give government a larger role and his follower, Louis Blanc, developed Saint-Simon’s vaguely formulated principle of “organization” into a doctrine of state intervention to achieve Utopian ends.
      • Blanqui:
        • He, by contrast, was a revolutionary who spent more than 33 years in prison for his insurrectionary activities.
        • He argues that Socialism cannot be achieved without the conquest of state power and this conquest must be the work of a small group of conspirators.
          • Once in power, the revolutionaries would form a temporary dictatorship that would confiscate the property of the wealthy and establish state control of major industries.
      • Proudhon:
        • In What Is Property, 1840, he memorably declared, “Property is theft!”.
        • In contrast to a society dominated by capitalists and absentee landlords, Proudhon’s ideal was a society in which everyone had an equal claim, either alone or as part of a small cooperative, to possess and use land and other resources as needed to make a living.
        • Such a society would operate on the principle of mutualism, according to which individuals and groups would exchange products with one another on the basis of mutually satisfactory contracts.
        • All this would be accomplished, ideally, without the interference of the state, for Proudhon was an anarchist who regarded the state as an essentially coercive institution.
        • Yet his anarchism did not prevent him from urging Napoleon III to make free bank credit available to workers for the establishment of mutualist cooperatives—a proposal the emperor declined to adopt.
        • Note:
          • Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies, often defined as self-governed, voluntary institution. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful.
      • Mikhail Bakunin:
        • He is called the father of modern anarchism, and was a libertarian socialist, a theory by which the workers would directly manage the means of production through their own productive associations.
        • There would be “equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor.”
    • Criticism of Utopian Socialism:
      • Later socialists and critics of utopian socialism viewed “utopian socialism” as not being grounded in actual material conditions of existing society, and so were impractical and ineffective.
      • Many socialists became disillusioned with the viability of Utopian’s approach and instead emphasized direct political action.
      • Utopian socialism was criticised for giving the visions and outlines for imaginary or futuristic ideal and egalitarian society, but without the scientific analysis of social evolution that Marx’s scientific socialism provides (turning socialism from an utopia to science), which developed in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, the Critique of political economy and the Das Kapital.
      • Utopian socialism failed because it failed to analyse correctly the forces and impulses which govern the human nature and mould its environment.
        • Marx removed this defect and declared that the fundamental impulses of human life is economic and the course of history has always been determined by economic factors.
        • This gave socialism a philosophy and new direction.
      • 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.
      • As per Marx and his friend Engels, utopian socialists failed to recognize why it was that socialism arose in the historical context that it did, that it arose as a response to new social contradictions of a new mode of production, i.e. capitalism.
      • As Marx put it: And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove:
        • that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular, historic phases in the development of production;
        • that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the Proletariat;
        • that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.
      • Whereas the utopian socialists deduced from philosophy outlines of a new and more perfect social order and sought to impose these from without thorough propaganda and experiment, now the possibility of transformation could be found in economics. With Marx’s discovery of the materialist conception of history and the process of expropriation of surplus value under capitalism, socialism was put on a new footing.
  • Influence of early socialism:
    • Although efforts of early socialist failed, but they left influence.
    • They focused public attention upon the appalling evils of existing industrial system and set in motion against the theory of laissez faire and individualism.
    • Chartist Movement in England were result of their ideas.
    • In France, socialism of Louis Blanc was a powerful factor in organising the working men against Bourgeoise government of Louis Philippe.
    • Though Pre-Marxist Socialist Thought was not organized and as scientifically explained as done by Marx and utopian socialists could not provide scientific approach to social problems and their vision remained utopia instead of coming into the reality. Nonetheless utopian socialism gave a start on which Marxism and later socialism built upon.
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