Socialism in Europe

Socialism is a political, social and economic philosophy. The systems which follow socialism are characterized by social ownership of the means of production and democratic control of enterprise. The idea of socialism caught the fancy of many during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In this lesson, you will read about idea of socialism taking birth in Europe and spreading to all over Europe, followed by spreading to the rest of the world. You will also read about socialism taking its stranglehold on the Russian empire.

Liberals, Radicals and Conservatives

In every era, there are different types of people in a society. They can be broadly categorized as conservatives, liberals and radicals. Let us see how different types of people thought in Europe in those days.

Liberals: Liberals wanted a change in the society. They wanted toleration towards all religions. They opposed the uncontrolled power of dynastic rulers. They wanted to safeguard the rights of individuals. They favored a representative, elected parliamentary government. Such a government should be subject to laws interpreted by a well-trained and independent judiciary. However, some of the liberal ideas were not democratic. They did not believe in universal adult franchise and wanted the voting rights only for men with property.

Radicals: Radicals also wanted a change in the society. The radicals were in favor of women's suffragate movement. They opposed the privileges of wealthy landowners and factory owners. They were not against private property but opposed the concentration of property in a few hands.

Conservatives: The conservatives preferred the status quo, i.e. things should remain as they were. However, their attitudes changed after the French Revolution. They were in favor of gradual change, with some preservation of old institutions.

Industrial Society and Social Change

This was the era when industrialization spread to most parts of Europe. Industrialization not only affected the economy but also the society. Industrialization resulted in a large number of people working in factories. Work hours were usually long and the workers were getting poor wages. Unemployment was quite common. As towns were growing rapidly, there were problems of housing and sanitation.

Many among the liberals and radicals were property owners and employers. They wanted the benefit of industrialization to reach the workforce. They believed that healthy and educated citizens would be more productive for the economy. Some liberals and radicals wanted revolutions which could end all kind of governments established in Europe in 1815.

The Coming of Socialism to Europe

Socialism was a radical idea which was based on abolition of private properties and projected a dream of classless society. Socialists saw private property as the root of all social ills. They argued that the capitalists were only concerned about their profit and not with the welfare of workers. Capitalist system was seen as exploitative of workers.

The idea of cooperative caught fancy of many socialists. Some socialists thought that building large-scale cooperatives by individuals was impossible. So, they advocated that the governments should encourage cooperatives.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) argued that workers should make a cooperative society in which collective ownership of land and factories would be promoted. According to Marx, it was the way to get rid of ills of capitalism. Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) also added other ideas to the concept of socialism. Marx and Engels wrote extensively on this topic.

Support for Socialism

Socialist ideas spread through Europe by the 1870s. An international body, called Second International was formed to coordinate these efforts.

Workers in England and Germany began forming associations so that they could fight for better living and working conditions. They also set up funds to help members in times of distress. They demanded reduced working hours and the voting rights. These associations worked closely with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany and helped it in winning the parliamentary seats. Similarly, a Labour Party was formed in Britain and a Socialist Party was formed in France by 1905. But the socialists influence remained limited to winning a few parliamentary seats. Till 1914, the socialists did not succeed in forming a government in Europe.

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