There is a history of socialism that both pre-dates Marxism and has developed independently of Marxism. The word “socialist” was coined by followers of the Welsh reformer Robert Owen in a cooperative magazine in 1827. The word “socialism” was first used by followers of the French thinker Henri Saint-Simon in a publication called the Globe in 1832. By 1840 the term was in common usage throughout Europe where it meant, more or less, the doctrine that ownership and control of the means of production should be held by the community as a whole and administered in the interests of all.
   But the appearance of the word at this date does not necessarily mean that socialism did not exist beforehand. Some socialists claim a heritage stretching back to the slave rebellions in the Roman Empire, with Spartacus, the leader of the most famous of the slave rebellions in 73 BC, in struggling for the freedom and equality of slaves embodying basic socialist aspirations. In England the forerunners of socialism can be tracked at least as far back as the 14th century and the Peasants’ Revolt. The peasants sought an end to some of the harsher aspects of feudal life, and a greater degree of freedom, aspirations which again appear to be consistent with socialist sympathies.
   Another example often cited is Sir Thomas More who in 1516 wrote his book Utopia in which he put forward a vision of a society where there is no private property and no exploitation of the poor by the rich. Moving forward to the 17th century, the Diggers movement stands out as an expression of socialistic sentiments in its challenging of the rich, and its championing of the poor and their right to land. “Gracchus” Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals at the time of the French Revolution was a notable example of socialism in the 18th century, and in the early 19th century Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Henri Saint-Simon, and the English Chartists were the more immediate forerunners of Karl Marx.
   The very broad range of thinkers and ideas collected under the heading socialism make it difficult to define with any precision. In general, attempts at characterizing socialism highlight notions of equality, liberty, community, and an economic view based on a critique of capitalism and embracing some alternative that emphasizes common ownership and planning. On this basis it is possible to subsume Marxism under the heading socialism.
   Marx sought to distinguish his socialism from that of his predecessors and rivals by claiming for it a scientific status, and by rejecting the idea of socialism as an ideal to be strived for. Marx saw socialism as the outcome of a historical development, specifically the tendencies within capitalism that would see socialism emergence as the negation of capitalism. In describing their socialism, Marx and Friedrich Engels did not favor the word Marxism and used a variety of terms instead including communism, “critical materialist socialism,” “critical and revolutionary socialism,” and “scientific socialism.” Vladimir Ilich Lenin picked up on a distinction made by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) between the first phase of communist society when classes, a state, with distribution according to work done, and various aspects of the former capitalist society will still exist, and the higher stage, which will be communism proper and as such stateless, classless, with distribution according to need, and so on. Lenin in his The State and Revolution (1917) identified the first phase described by Marx as socialism, and subsequent Marxists have largely adopted this usage. Hence, communist parties such as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have ruled countries they themselves describe as socialist (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The leaders of countries such as the Soviet Union claimed they were in the socialist first phase while always moving toward full communism. Leonid Brezhnev, for example, described the Soviet Union during his leadership as a form of “developed socialism.” Marxists for many years disputed the status of these “really existing socialism” countries, and whether or not they constituted socialism in the Leninist sense of a transitional, post-capitalist stage on the way to communism.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.


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