Movement aiming to establish a classless society by substituting public for private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. The term has been used to describe positions as widely apart as anarchism and social democracy. Socialist ideas appeared in classical times, in early Christianity, among later Christian sects such as the Anabaptists and Diggers, and, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when they were put forward as systematic political aims by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Claude Saint-Simon, François Fourier, and Robert Owen, among others. Socialist theories were also promoted by the German social and political philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a division between those who reacted against Marxism, leading to social-democratic parties, and those who emphasized the original revolutionary significance of Marx's teachings. Weakened by these divisions, the second International (founded in 1889) collapsed after 1914, with right-wing socialists in all countries supporting participation in World War I while the left opposed it. The Russian Revolution took socialism from the sphere of theory to that of practice, and was followed in 1919 by the foundation of the Third International, which cemented the division between right and left. This lack of unity, in spite of the temporary successes of the popular fronts in France and Spain 1936–38, helped the rise of fascism and Nazism.
After World War II socialist and communist parties tended towards formal union in Eastern Europe, although the strict communist control that followed was later modified in some respects in, for example, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Subsequent tendencies to broaden communism were suppressed in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). In 1989, however, revolutionary change throughout Eastern Europe ended this rigid control; this was followed in 1991 by the disbanding of the Soviet Communist Party and the resulting disintegration of the USSR. In Western Europe a communist takeover of the Portuguese revolution failed 1975–76, and elsewhere, as in France under François Mitterrand (president 1981–95), attempts at socialist-communist cooperation petered out. Most countries in Western Europe have a strong socialist, or social democratic, party; for example, the Social Democratic Party in Germany, the Labour Party in the UK, the Socialist Worker's Party in Spain, and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in Greece.
In the later 19th century, socialist parties arose in most European countries, and the Independent Labour Party was founded in Britain in 1893. This period, during which the Bolsheviks were reviving in Russia, witnessed a reaction against Marxism, typified by the Fabian Society in Britain and the German Revisionists, which appealed to popular nationalism and encouraged the belief that economic problems should be solved by similar means of state control of the economy, but in the general interests of private capital.
‘Feudalism to Socialism’
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