Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662
Joshua Muravchik’s book details the rise and fall of socialism in American and Europe, and as such, his narrative focuses on the major contributors to socialist theory and politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He focuses on how these individuals contributed to the emerging support European nations, particularly in the East, had for socialism, which they saw as a potential substitute for democratic government after the Second World War.
Babeuf was a radical French thinker during the revolutionary period. A leading intellectual of the French underground group called the “Conspiracy of Equals,” Babeuf called for the abolition of the French Revolutionary government, which he saw as controlled by greedy state officials. He called for the collectivization of all private property and the construction of a post-revolutionary, socialist France. He was executed in 1797 for his resistance to the French Republican government.
Owen was a socialist thinker in the United States in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1825, he founded a settlement in Indiana called “New Harmony.” In attempt to move away from the violence and revolutionary fervor that had come to characterize the Jacobin movement in France, Owen sought to create a model factory town in which all contributing members would receive equal pay and have equal access to politics and governance. Owen based New Harmony on the secular principles of socialist utopianism, which set his project in contrast with many of the other communal experiments of the early American republic, which were often heavily influenced by religion.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels:
Perhaps the most visionary and influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, Marx and Engels created much of the theoretical framework that underly worldwide socialist ideology. Their most famous work, The Communist Manifesto (first published in 1848), laid the groundwork for socialist theory and encouraged political thinkers to adopt this new form of government all over Europe. The Communist Manifesto argued for the existence of an empirical evolution of society through the ages, from the slave-owning civilizations of the Greeks and Romans to the feudal societies of Medieval Europe, and finally to the bourgeoise capitalist states that characterized their own day. Marx and Engels predicted that there would occur a revolution of the world’s industrial working men and women—the proletariat—which would overthrow all existing forms of government and usher in the age of socialist utopia.
Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik party in Russia and the first statesmen to ever make socialism the dominant ideology of state. Lenin successfully overthrew Nicholas I and the Russian Romanov monarchy in 1917, and thereafter, he reorganized Russia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. For almost 80 years, from 1917 to 1989, the Soviet Union remained the world’s premier socialist empire, encouraging revolutions all over the world—from Eastern Europe to Latin America to Southeast Asia—and serving as an exemplar that other socialist governments sought to mimic. Lenin’s intellectual contribution to socialist ideology was in large part responsible for much of the Soviet Union’s worldwide ideological success.
Attlee was the British Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951 and Labour Party leader. He was responsible for implementing several socialist policies in England upon the conclusion of the Second World War. Under his direction, England partially nationalized its infrastructure and agriculture, extended government aid to poor British citizens, and permitted labor unionization.
Nyerere was a Tanzanian politician who modeled his government upon socialist principles. Partially influenced by Chinese Maoism, partially by British Fabianism, Nyerere was committed to improving upon those Labour Party reforms that had failed to achieve long-lasting results in Britain. His support and enthusiasm for British-styled government convinced London to grant Tanzania partial independence in 1961.
Muravchik concludes his book by detailing the careers and contributions of those world leaders who quenched much of the socialist fervor that had gripped Europe in the early 1900s. These individuals included leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xioping, and Tony Blair.