Socialism in Europe

Liberals, Radicals and Conservatives

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 favoured 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 favour 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. However, their attitudes changed after the French Revolution. They were in favour of gradual change; with some preservation of old institutions.

Industrial Society and Social Change

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.

Some socialists believed in the idea of cooperatives. Some other socialists believed that the governments should encourage cooperatives because it was not possible to build large-scale cooperatives by individual initiatives.

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.

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. However, till 1914, the socialists did not succeed in forming a government in Europe.


The fall of monarchy in February 1917 and the subsequent events of October are normally called the Russian Revolution.

The Russian Empire in 1914

In 1914, Russia and its empire was ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. The Russian empire included modern-day Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, parts of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. It stretched to the Pacific and comprised modern day Central Asian states, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Orthodox Christianity was the majority religion in Russia but Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists also lived in the Russian Empire.

Economy and Society

At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 85% of the Russian empire’s population was dependent on agriculture. Industry was found in some pockets; like St. Petersburg and Moscow. Much of the production was done by craftsmen but large factories also existed. Most of the factories were set up in the 1890s. This was the period when Russia’s railway network was extended and foreign investment in industry increased.

Most of the industry was owned by private individuals. The government kept an eye on large factories to ensure minimum wages and limited working hours. But rules were broken with impunity. Workers sometimes had to work up to 15 hours. Accommodation for workers could be in rooms or dormitories.

Workers: The workers were divided into different social groups. Some of them had strong links with their ancestral villages. Some others had permanently settled in the cities. Workers were divided by skill and metalworkers were on top of this hierarchy. Workers’ dress and manners also manifested such divisions.

In spite of divisions, the workers often united to strike work whenever there was some issue related to dismissals or work conditions. Such strikes frequently took place in the textiles industry during 1896-1897, and in the metal industry during 1902.

Peasants: In villages, the peasants cultivated most of the land, but large properties were owned by the nobility, the crown and the Orthodox Church.

Barring a few exceptions, the peasants had no respect for the nobility. Nobles enjoyed their power and position because of their services to the Tsar. The peasants of Russia wanted the land of the nobles to be given to them. They often refused to pay rent and even murdered landlords. Such incidents occurred on a large scale in south Russia in 1902. And in 1905, such incidents happened all over Russia.

Russian peasants pooled their land together periodically. Their commune (mir) divided the land according to the needs of individual families. Thus, they had a long tradition of working in close association.

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