Rise of socialist ideas (up to Marx); Spread of Marxian Socialism (Part 3)

Rise of socialist ideas (up to Marx); Spread of Marxian Socialism (Part 3)

Some other forms of Socialism


  • Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who held that religion, capitalism, and the state are forms of oppression that must be smashed if people are ever to be free. As he stated in an early essay, “The Reaction in Germany” (1842), “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.” This belief led Bakunin into one uprising or conspiracy after another throughout his life. It also led him into a controversy with Marx that contributed to disintegration of the International Working Men’s Association in the 1870s.
  • As a communist, Bakunin shared Marx’s vision of a classless, stateless community in which the means of production would be under community control; as an anarchist, however, he vehemently rejected Marx’s claim that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a necessary step on the way to communism. To the contrary, Bakunin argued, the dictatorship of the proletariat threatened to become even more oppressive than the bourgeois state, which at least had a militant and organized working class to check its growth.

Fabian socialism

  • A milder and markedly centralist version of socialism, Fabianism, emerged in Britain. Fabian Socialism was so called because the members of the Fabian Society admired the tactics of the Roman general Fabius Cunctator, who avoided pitched battles and gradually wore down Hannibal’s forces.
  • Instead of revolution, the Fabians favoured “gradualism” as the way to bring about socialism. Their notion of socialism, like Saint-Simon’s, entailed social control of property through an effectively and impartially administered state—a government of enlightened experts.
  • The Fabians themselves were mostly middle-class intellectuals—including George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas, and H.G. Wells—who thought that persuasion and education were more likely to lead to socialism, however gradually, than violent class warfare.
  • Rather than form their own political party or work through trade unions, moreover, the Fabians aimed at gaining influence within existing parties. They eventually exercised considerable influence within Britain’s Labour Party, though they had little to do with its formation in the early 1900s.


  • Near the anarcho-communists on the decentralist side of socialism were the syndicalists. Inspired in part by Proudhon’s ideas, syndicalism developed at the end of the 19th century out of the French trade-union movement—syndicat being the French word for trade union. It was a significant force in Italy and Spain in the early 20th century until it was crushed by the fascist regimes in those countries. In the United States, syndicalism appeared in the guise of the Industrial Workers of the World, or “Wobblies,” founded in 1905.
  • The hallmarks of syndicalism were workers’ control and “direct action.” Syndicalists such as distrusted both the state, which they regarded as an agent of capitalism, and political parties, which they thought were incapable of achieving radical change. Their aim was to replace capitalism and the state with a loose federation of local workers’ groups, which they meant to bring about through direct action—especially a general strike of workers that would bring down the government as it brought the economy to a halt.

Guild socialism

  • Related to syndicalism but nearer to Fabianism in its reformist tactics, Guild Socialism was an English movement that attracted a modest following in the first two decades of the 20th century.
  • Inspired by the medieval guild, an association of craftsmen who determined their own working conditions and activities, theorists such as Samuel G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole advocated the public ownership of industries and their organization into guilds, each of which would be under the democratic control of its trade union.
  • The role of the state was less clear: some guild socialists envisioned it as a coordinator of the guilds’ activities, while others held that its functions should be limited to protection or policing. In general, however, the guild socialists were less inclined to invest power in the state than were their Fabian compatriots.

Q. “France was more fertile than Britain in producing new Socialist theories and movements, though they bore less concrete results in France than in Britain.” Comment.

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