First used in the early 1830s, the word socialism denotes a political, social, and economic doctrine in which property is controlled and distributed by the community or state. With its origins in utopian and Marxist thought, socialism is generally considered a political ideal and a largely unrealizable system, despite the fact that numerous governments and other political organizations have employed the term in various designations. Although socialism exists principally as an abstract idea, it has been treated frequently in both late nineteenth-century literature and in applied political philosophy of the era. Among the seminal theorists of socialism were French thinkers François Marie Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon, and the British utopian Robert Owen. These three outlined many of the principal tenets of the doctrine as well as their possible practical applications. Fourier proposed a system of small economic units called phalanstère, or phalanxes, in which individuals of various social classes would work in harmony for the benefit of the community at large. Saint-Simon's socialist plans included an emphasis on industrialization and technological discovery—as well as on Christian solidarity—for the greater good of all members of society. A more thoroughly practical thinker than his French counterparts, Owen was instrumental in organizing British labor to form the first trade unions in 1833, and sought to expand the international cooperative movement which he believed could counter the prevailing system of capitalist competition.
Arising from the theories of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, and numerous other advocates of socialism—including the Frenchman Louis Blanc and the German-American Laurence Gronlund—the social fiction of the nineteenth century in France and Britain, and later in America and other parts of Europe, frequently emphasized the importance of these new and radical perceptions of society. Under the influence of Owen's ideas, the French writer Étienne Cabet in his 1839 novel Voyage en Icarie offered a utopian look at a harmonious community formed under socialism. In the United States, Edward Bellamy in his Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) presented a utopian-socialist vision of a future America in which the pressing problems of labor and the unequal distribution of wealth had been addressed. Like Cabet's work, Looking Backward did much to spread socialist concepts to a large audience, and spawned a popular appreciation of the movement.
The mantle of progressive socialism was also adopted by a number of feminist writers who saw in the movement a potential to remove substantial barriers of gender inequality in addition to those class distinctions that male socialists generally sought to overthrow. British novelist Emma Brooke's Transition (1895) reveals both the strategies and weaknesses of a socialist reorganization of a society, while Clementina Black's An Agitator (1894) presents the problems associated with organizing the working-class in late nineteenth-century England. Florence Dixie's Gloriana; or, the Revolution of 1900 (1890) imagines a combined triumph of socialism and feminism that ends the exploitation of women and the working-class. Additionally, critics have perceived a less radical but substantial element of socialist-feminism in male writing, including William Morris's well-known utopian work News from Nowhere (1891).
Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (novel) 1888
An Agitator (novel) 1894
Histoire de dix ans. 5 vols. (political philosophy) 1841-44
Transition (novel) 1895
Voyage en Icarie (novel) 1839
Margaret Dunmore: Or, A Socialist Home (novel) 1888
The Image Breakers (novel) 1900
Gloriana; or, The Revolution of 1900 (novel) 1890
François Marie Charles Fourier
Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (political philosophy) 1808
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Herland (novel) 1915
Demos: A Story of English Socialism. (novel) 1886
The Co-operative Commonwealth in its Outlines. An Exposition of Modern Socialism (political philosophy) 1884
A More Excellent Way (novel) 1888
Mary E. Bradley Lane
Mizora: A Prophecy (novel) 1890
Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark, Written in Prose and Verse (novel) 1889
The Roots of the Mountains Wherein is Told Somewhat of...
(The entire section is 177 words.)
SOURCE: “Bakunin, Marx and the Aesthetic Heritage of Socialism,” in Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, No. 22, 1973, pp. 42-50.
[In the following essay, Reszler probes the origins of socialist aesthetic theory.]
The study of the socialist vision of art as revealed in the thoughts of Michael Bakunin and Karl Marx—philosophers whose lives and works have long since become the symbols of the schism in the revolutionary socialist movement—is founded on the existence of two distinct socialist aesthetics: the first is based on the anarchist cult of the limitless creativity of man; the second on the dialectic interpretation of artistic creations, or, better still, on the dogmas of historical or dialectic materialism.
The similarity between the anarchist and Marxist aesthetics is to be found at the level of two primary goals: to expose the social foundations of literary and artistic creation, and to define the revolutionary purpose of art. Beyond these goals—which they share with all past and present politically committed aesthetics—they are poles apart.
To define briefly the dual aesthetic order of socialism and to shed light upon the part played by socialism in the development of modern sensibility, such are the aims of this lecture. We will be concerned primarily with the fascinating fragments of two abortive undertakings: the writings...
(The entire section is 5910 words.)
SOURCE: “The Marxist Origins: From Theory to Politics,” in The Socialist Tradition: From Crisis to Decline, Routledge, 1995, pp. 23-56.
[In the following excerpt, Boggs traces the sources of socialism in Marxist thought.]
The modern concepts of democracy and socialism have their origins in the late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discourses of classical liberalism, utopianism, and early Marxism. As an outgrowth of the French and American Revolutions, along with the industrial and technological transformations sweeping Europe and North America, democracy and socialism symbolized a break with the past: the ancien régime, feudalism, Church hegemony, rigid social hierarchies. Yet the ideals and visions that grew out of this historic process—freedom, equality, community, rights—were scarcely the product of any emerging consensus. On the contrary, they became very much part of a contested terrain shaped by rival interests, ideologies, and movements that accompanied the great bourgeois revolutions, the popular upheavals of 1848, the Paris Commune and, finally, the rise of labor unions and parties in the 1870s. Within this profound shift of social and authority relations the fate of democracy and socialism was deeply, and seemingly forever, intertwined.
As Macpherson correctly suggests, even within the liberal tradition there was little consensus about the meaning of...
(The entire section is 5893 words.)
SOURCE: “The Philosopher of Socialism,” in Louis Blanc: His Life and His Contribution to the Rise of French Jacobin-Socialism, Northwestern University Press, 1961, pp. 31-48.
[In the following essay, Loubère details the socialist thought of Louis Blanc.]
Louis Blanc convinced himself that it was possible to achieve broad reform without resorting to a Reign of Terror. One had merely to describe social evils to move men's hearts and then to explain the means of erasing such evils to inspire their reason. With this self-granted mandate in mind he put forth a socialist program intended to complement his political ideas. It appeared first in June and August, 1840, as a series of articles in his review, then in September as a book entitled, Organisation du travail. The book was just a slight expansion of the articles, and yet, it brought him greater fame than all his multivolume histories. The workers who printed the original edition of three thousand copies became so enthusiastic they carried its message into the streets, a sort of publicity that was most helpful. Within two weeks three thousand additional copies were needed.1 By 1847 it was in its fifth edition, and doubled in size by the author's rebuttals to his critics.
The disapproval of other theorists did not constitute a danger to Blanc's publication, but the government did....
(The entire section is 8581 words.)
SOURCE: “Alimentary Discourse in Nineteenth-Century Social Theory: Pierre Leroux, Etienne Cabet and Charles Fourier,” in Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 11, Fall, 1986, pp. 72-95.
[In the following essay, Brown explores the significance of food and gastronomy in the thought of three French socialist theorists—Pierre Leroux, Etienne Cabet, and Charles Fourier.]
The years 1825-1848 witnessed the rise of Socialist thought in France and, concomitantly, many writers and novelists explored social themes in their works. Several influences contributed to the climate of these years, particularly the ideologies of social commentators such as Fourier, Saint-Simon and Lamennais. For the most part, these socialist thinkers expressed their ideas in theoretical works which usually sought a collective approach in attempting to remedy the ills of society. This interest in the collective movement led them to construct model societies or “miniature utopias” in which they would project ideal social relationships and working conditions. In nearly all these model communities, and not surprisingly, given their preponderance in French cultural mores of the period, meals and eating practices play a major role. They represent a projet, a desirable symbol for the proponents of utopias first of all because food is abundant and everyone shares in it equally, and they are constructive because in these societies every...
(The entire section is 9202 words.)
SOURCE: “Tocqueville on Socialism and History,” in Interpretation, Vol. 21, No. 2, Winter, 1993-1994, pp. 181-99.
[In the following essay, Lawler elucidates Alexis de Tocqueville's view of—and opposition to—socialism.]
My purpose here is to consider Tocqueville's understanding of socialism. It may well be the case that the authority of Tocqueville has never been stronger than it is today, while the authority of socialism is weaker now than it has been since the time of Tocqueville. As a political actor, Tocqueville opposed socialism. He also did so as a political theorist, but with an appreciation of its greatness and the theoretical strength of its challenge. He suggested, in fact, that the cause of human liberty would suffer in the absence of that challenge. In the name of Tocqueville, liberals ought to reflect upon the case for socialism more seriously than they characteristically do. It reveals how problematic and difficult the defense of human liberty is in our time.
From a theoretical perspective, Tocqueville's understanding of socialism reveals his most fundamental debt to Rousseau. Tocqueville's indebtedness to Rousseau has often been recognized, although mostly in terms of the similarity of their political solutions to the problems of democracy.1 This practical debt has often been overstated. Tocqueville, for example, emphatically did not reduce religion to...
(The entire section is 8879 words.)
SOURCE: “Robert Owen,” in The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin, Longmans, Green and Co., 1946, pp. 197-217.
[In the following essay, Gray considers the life and thought of British socialist Robert Owen.]
Among that queer bunch of visionary and Utopian socialists, to whom in some undefined proportion is usually ascribed the paternity of socialism, Robert Owen (1771-1858) presents some strange contrasts to his nearest bed-fellows. Saint-Simon had been an aristocrat, always conscious of the fact. Fourier, if we look at his drab life in the cold light of dawn, had been at best an unsuccessful commercial traveller. Godwin, to go further back, was obviously, in the world's estimation, destined to be a confused and bankrupt bookseller. Louis Blanc (coming further down than the fathers) was a journalist, graduating to an uneasy position in an uneasy government, as a prelude to a prolonged exile. It used to be a common reproach that one or other of many Cabinet Ministers, while aspiring to control the destiny of an empire, would have been incompetent to run a whelk-stall—though the special appropriateness of this particular entrepreneurial venture for purposes of comparison and contrast was never wholly clear. But the implied criticism, so far as it was justified, might certainly have been applied to the earlier socialists: they criticised the management of the world, but they themselves had ‘done...
(The entire section is 10278 words.)
SOURCE: “Laurence Gronlund: Contributions to American Socialism,” in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 15, 1962, pp. 618-24.
[In the following essay, Maher describes the influence of the largely neglected thinker, Laurence Gronlund, on nineteenth-century American socialism.]
Laurence Gronlund is responsible for three significant contributions to American socialism: first, a theoretical adaptation of German socialism to the American milieu; second, a substantial influence on Edward Bellamy; and, third, an effective criticism of the theories of Henry George. Although assessed as one of the most influential advocates of socialism in the late nineteenth century,1 Gronlund is virtually unknown today. In order to indicate the reasons for his importance, this article sketches in broad outline Gronlund's three principal contributions to American socialism.
Gronlund, a post-Civil War Danish immigrant, was associated at one time or another with Icarianism, Bellamyite Nationalism, the Socialist Labor party, and the American Fabian Society. Teacher, lecturer, editor, and author, Gronlund's prime works were The Co-operative Commonwealth (1884), Our Destiny (1890), and The New Economy (1898.)2
The first contribution of Laurence Gronlund to American socialism is his theoretical adaptation of German socialism...
(The entire section is 3222 words.)
SOURCE: “The Backward Look of Bellamy's Socialism,” in Looking Backward, 1988-1888: Essays on Edward Bellamy, edited by Daphne Patai, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, pp. 21-36.
[In the following essay, Cantor observes Edward Bellamy's “insular, parochial, Christian, uniquely nineteenth-century American” socialism.]
Edward Bellamy, born in 1850 of a long line of Connecticut and Vermont ancestors, was the frail and precocious son of a New England country parson in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. The father, a Baptist minister, was amiable, indolent, good-natured, of a more liberal religious bent than his strong-willed wife. Maria Bellamy was a religious zealot whose spirit burned with the fires of an uncompromising Calvinism. Possessed of the unbending qualities of seventeenth-century Puritan New England, she dominated the Bellamy household, pressed books—but never useless fiction!—upon her son, and made sure that the daily family prayers, twice-a-day Sabbath devotions, and Sunday school educational requirements were observed. In a sense Bellamy personified the clash between a rigid Calvinism and a Puritanism gone secular and tolerant. This is not to suggest parental conflict. The Bellamy household remained deeply religious. It offered a sense of comfort and security, a warm, affective, nurturing family life. Small wonder Bellamy later observed that love of home “is one of the...
(The entire section is 6267 words.)
SOURCE: “Feminist Socialists: Some Portraits,” in Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 57-82.
[In the following essay, first published in 1983, Taylor surveys the principal nineteenth-century feminist proponents of Robert Owen's socialist thought.]
Until the late 1820s, adherence to Owenite views was almost entirely confined to a small number of radical intellectuals. But in the 1830s and 1840s support for the New Science of Society mushroomed. ‘Little knots of Socialists appeared in almost every part of the country,’ one journalist on The Whitehaven Herald observed in 1842, describing how even in his own small city the Owenite presence had swelled from two or three individuals to a band of several hundred, ‘of whom a considerable proportion were females …’1 Women appear to have taken an active part in this development right across the country. In 1833 a visiting Saint Simonian reported seeing large numbers of women at all Owenite meetings, including several who were ‘noted for their writings and lectures’. ‘I have seldom seen faces so animated as theirs,’ he wrote admiringly, ‘They felt their equality with men …’2 Seven years later, in 1840, hostile observers were commenting on the ‘crowds’ of women who regularly attended Owenite lectures and meetings around the...
(The entire section is 12982 words.)
SOURCE: “An (Almost) Egalitarian Sage: William Morris and Nineteenth-Century Socialist-Feminism,” in Victorian Sages and Cultural Discourse: Renegotiating Gender and Power, edited by Thaïs E. Morgan, Rutgers University Press, 1990, pp. 187-206.
[In the following essay, Boos investigates the socialist-feminist element in William Morris's writing.]
In the last decade of his life, William Morris developed a sage voice of “fellowship” in works whose most memorable protagonists are outsiders: a working-class revolutionary; a soon-to-be-martyred visionary priest; two “guests” who are displaced from their physical and temporal origins; and two young women who seek to realize new forms of wisdom, independence, and social justice. Throughout his life, Morris had included in his works striking portrayals of women, and a high valuation of characteristics he considered “womanly” remained central to the conceptions of beauty and justice in his late poetry and prose romances. For his period, he was remarkably unpuritanical; his poetic embodiments of sexual relationships are attractively uninhibited, and he was unusual among Victorian poets in his preoccupation with male sexual responsibility toward female partners, rather than the reverse. In the last years of his life, however, Morris's identification with the socialist movement also led him to create female political heroes who differ...
(The entire section is 9931 words.)
SOURCE: “‘The Journey from Fantasy to Politics’: The Representation of Socialism and Feminism in Gloriana and The Image-Breakers,” in Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers, 1889-1939, edited by Angela Ingram and Daphne Patai, The University of North Carolina Press, 1993, pp. 43-56.
[In the following essay, Ardis evaluates the relationship between turn-of-the-century British feminism and socialism by examining the novels of Lady Florence Dixie and Gertrude Dix.]
In British Socialists: The Journey from Fantasy to Politics, Stanley Pierson describes the transformation of British socialism between 1880 and 1910 as a journey from the glorious utopian fantasies of New Life promoted by William Morris, Edward Carpenter, and Havelock Ellis to the realpolitik of early-twentieth-century Independent Labour Party (ILP) activists and Fabian socialists. The loss of a certain quality of “vision and commitment,” Pierson argues, attended British socialists' acquisition of parliamentary power, and his study traces the internal disagreements, defections, and schisms within the major socialist organizations of the period as they set out to realize abstract socialist principles.1
Pierson's characterization of British socialism's transformation at the turn of the century is apt, but at least one reason for the appropriateness of his central metaphor...
(The entire section is 5820 words.)
Boos, Florence. “Morris's German Romances as Socialist History.” Victorian Studies 27, No. 3 (Spring 1984): 321-42.
Studies William Morris's “imaginative reconstructions of a proto-socialist past,” including The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains—works that anticipate the ideal vision of Morris's News from Nowhere.
——— and William Boos. “News From Nowhere and Victorian Socialist-Feminism.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 14, No. 1 (1990): 3-32.
Interprets News from Nowhereas “a high-point of Morris's projections of sexual equality.”
Britain, Ian. “A Transplanted Doll's House: Ibsenism, Feminism and Socialism in Late-Victorian and Edwardian England.” In Transformations in Modern European Drama, edited by Ian Donaldson, pp. 14-54. London: Macmillan, 1983.
Discusses the appeal of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House to English socialists.
Goode, John. “Gissing, Morris, and English Socialism.” Victorian Studies XII, No. 2 (December 1968): 201-26.
Analyzes the contradictions in George Gissing's novel Demos: A Story of English Socialism, comparing the work to William Morris's News From Nowhere.
Gray, Alexander. The Socialist Tradition: Moses to...
(The entire section is 416 words.)