Rise of Socialist Ideas and Birth of Communism


Socialist ideas in the modern sense came to be articulated by the Physiocrats or the economists who were making enquiries into the production and distribution of food and goods. Étienne-Gabriel Morally, the Utopian thinker, in his Code de la Nature (1755), denounced the institution of private property and proposed a communistic organisation of society. He was the precursor of various schools of collectivist thinkers in the nineteenth century who are categorised as Socialists. Francois Babeuf, a political agitator of the French Revolutionary period, felt that the Revolution in France did not address the needs of the peasants and workers, and argued in favour of abolition of private property and for common ownership of land.

Utopian Socialism

T he earliest socialists in Europe were not revolutionaries. They proposed idealistic schemes for cooperative societies, in which all would work at their assigned tasks and share the outcome of their common efforts. The term “Utopian Socialism” was first used by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to describe the ideas articulated by the socialists before them. Utopian Socialists recommended the establishment of model communities, where the means of production would be collectively owned. They promoted a visionary idea of a socialistic society, devoid of poverty or unemployment. Their influence led to the establishment of several hundred model communes (communities) in Europe and USA. Claude-Henri Saint-Simon, Francois-Marie-Charles Fourier and Robert Owen were some of the prominent Utopian Socialists.

Claude Henri Saint-Simon (1760–1825)

Saint Simon was a French aristocrat who fought against the British in the American War of Independence. A strong believer in science and progress, he criticised contemporary French society for being in the grip of feudalism. Saint-Simon suggested that scientists take the place of priests in the social order. He expressed the view that property owners who held political power could hope to maintain themselves against the propertyless only by subsidising the advance of knowledge. In his book called New Christianity he advocated the adoption of the Christian principle of concern for the poor.

Charles Fourier (1772–1837)

Fourier an early was Utopian Socialist. He believed that social conditions were the primary cause of human misery. Social and economic inequality could be overcome if everybody had the basic minimum. Fourier believed in the goodness of human nature and rejected the dogma of “original sin”. He saw harmony as the law of the cosmos and held that what is true for nature must be true for society. He envisaged a harmonious self-contained cooperative society called phalansteres. It was a community where there would be equal distribution of profit and loss.

Robert Owen (1771–1858)

Among the factory owners of Manchester there was a humanitarian by name Robert Owen. Shocked by the condition of the factory workers, he introduced many reforms in his own factories and improved the condition of Robert Owen the workers. He did not employ children below the age of 10 in his industries. Later he criticised private property and profit. He began to advocate the establishment of new cooperative communities that would combine industrial and agricultural production.

In his book A New View of Society (1818), he advocated a national education system, public works for the unemployed and reform of the Poor Laws. T hanks to his efforts, the British Parliament passed the Factory Act of 1819. By the mid1820s Owen had developed a theory of Utopian Socialism based on social equality and cooperation. His other initiatives included formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (1834) and the Cooperative Congresses (1831-1835). Poor Laws: In Britain the Poor Laws, as codified (1597–98) during Elizabethan period, provided relief for the aged, sick, and infant poor, as well as work for the ablebodied unemployed in workhouses.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865)

Proudhon Proudhon was a French anarchist who contributed significantly to the development of socialism. Unlike the earlier Utopian socialists who were drawn from the middle class, he belonged to the working class. Drawing inspiration from the cooperative communities, he and other anarchists were opposed to the state and believed in revolution. In his pamphlet titled “What is Property?” he wrote that “All property is theft.”

were oppressive. He wanted to replace nation-state with federations of autonomous communes. In 1848-49, he was a member of the National Assembly but was disillusioned by his experience. His ideas became popular among the working class of France by the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1864, some of the followers of Proudhon issued the Manifesto of the Sixty. The manifesto declared that the French Revolution of 1789 only brought about political equality and not economic equality.

T hey wanted the working class to be represented by themselves. In the 1863 elections, they unsuccessfully sponsored three working class candidates in the parliamentary elections of France. His views, which influenced the Russian anarchist thinker Michael Alexandrovich Bakunin, sought to overthrow the state by a general strike and replace it with democraticallyrun cooperative groups.

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