2. Early Socialists
    1. Babeuf Conspiracy
    2. Utopian Socialists
    3. Blanqui
  3. Communist League
  4. Marxian Socialism
  5. After 1848 revolution
  6. The First International, 1864
  7. The Paris Commune, 1871
  8. The Second International
    1. 2nd international: achievements
    2. 2nd International: cry against colonialism
    3. 2nd International: Limitations

In the last part we saw unification of Germany and Unification of Italy (click me), now continuing on to the 4th and last part:


You have read in Chapter 7 about the emergence of a new social and economic system called capitalism. Under this system, the means of production such as factories and the things produced by factories were owned and controlled by a few people. The vast majority of the people who worked in the factories had no rights. Their conditions of work and living were miserable. They were frequently without jobs. The workers gradually began to organize themselves into trade unions to protect their common rights though for a long time there were laws against workers combining themselves into unions. The governments were also forced to pass laws against some of the worse features of capitalism. For example Laws to protect workers from unsafe conditions of work were passed in many countries. Some progress was also made in regulating hours of work.

Some workers had begun to think that machines were the cause of their misery. In England, there was a movement to machines led the Luddites so named after their leader Ned Ludd. However, they soon realized that the destruction of machines would not put an end to their misery. In England, a new political movement started which aimed at winning political rights for workers. This was the Chartist movement about which you have read before.

Early Socialists

The greatest challenge to capitalism came from the ideas of socialism and the movements based on those ideas. The idea grew that capitalism itself is evil and that it needs to be replaced by a different kind and economic system in which the means a production would be owned by the society as a whole and not by a few individuals.

Many philosophers and reformers in the past had expressed their revulsion against inequalities in society and in favour of a system in which everyone would be equal. However these ideas had remained as mere dreams. The French Revolution a 1789 with its promise of equality had given a new impetus to these ideas. But the French Revolution, while it put an end to the autocratic rule of the French king, it did not did not usher in an era of equality in economic, social and political life. The-wide gap between the aims of the French Revolution and the actual conditions in France after the revolution created serious discontent among the people. It led to an attempt to overthrow the existing government in France with a view to building a society based on socialist ideas. This attempt, known as Babeufs Conspiracy, is an An important event in the history of socialism.

Babeuf Conspiracy

The Conspiracy, as the name indicates, was the work of Babeuf. He was born in 1760 and had participated in the French Revolution. He organized a secret society called the Society of the Equals. Babeuf, in a manifesto, had declared, “Nature gave everyone an equal right to the enjoyment of all goods…..In a true society, there is no room for either rich or poor”. He said that it was necessary to make another revolution which would do away “with the terrible contrasts between rich and poor, masters and servants! The time has come to set up the republic of equals, whose welcoming doors will be open to all mankind.” The society planned an uprising but the government came to know of the plan and in May 1796, a large number of leaders including Babeuf were arrested. Babeuf was executed in 1797. Though Babeuf’s attempt at overthrowing the government had failed, his ideas exercised an important influence on the growth of socialist movement.

Utopian Socialists

There was another group of socialists in the early history of socialism which included

  1. Saint-Simon (1760-1825)
  2. Charles Fourier (1772-1837)
  3. Robert Owen (1771-1858)

They viewed property in relation to its usefulness to society. They recognized the evils of capitalism and proposed the establishment of a new and better system of society in its place. Saint-Simon coined the slogan, ‘from each according to his capacity, to each according to his work‘. They visualized a society free from exploitation of any kind and one in which all would contribute their best and would share the fruits of their labour. However, the methods they advocated for the establishment of such a society were impracticable and ineffective. Hence they came to be called utopian socialists.


There were many other philosophers and revolutionaries who helped in spreading ideas of socialism. One of the most prominent among them was Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-81) who played a leading role in every uprising in Paris from the 1830’s to 1871. He believed that through a revolutionary conspiracy, power could be captured to bring about socialism. When he died. 200,000 workers joined the funeral procession in Paris.

Communist League

Many groups and organisations were also formed to spread socialist ideas and organise workers. One of these was the League of the Just which had members in many countries of Europe. Its slogan was ‘All men are brothers’. Thus internationalism was one of its important features. In 1847, its name was changed to the Communist League and it declared as its aim, “the downfall of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the overthrow of the old society of middle class, based on class distinction, and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property.” Its journal carried the slogan, “Proletarians of all lands, unite!” It instructed Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to draft a manifesto.

Marxian Socialism

The Communist Manifesto first appeared in German in February 1848. The influence of this document in the history of the socialist movement is without a rival. It was the work of Karl Marx (1818-83) and his lifelong associate Frederick Engels (1820-M). Both Marx and Engels were born in Germany, but spent much of their life outside Germany, mostly in England. Through their work in the socialist movement and through their numerous writings, they gave a new direction to socialist ideology and movement. Their philosophy is known as Marxism and it has influenced almost every field of knowledge. Their view of socialism is called scientific socialism.

The Communist Manifesto stated that the aim of workers all over the world was the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class differences”, it said “appears an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. It pointed out that socialism was not merely desirable, but also inevitable. Capitalism, it said, does not serve the needs of man and, like other social and economic systems in history, it would be replaced by a system, better suited to human needs. Marx analysed the working of capitalism in his famous work Das Kapital (Capital) and pointed out the characteristics that would lead to its destruction. According to him,

  1. Workers produce more ‘value’ than they get in the form of wages, the difference being appropriated by the capitalists in the form of profits.
  2. This constitutes the basis of conflict in capitalist society. Profits can be increased at the cost of workers’ wages and, therefore, the interests of workers and capitalists are irreconcilable.
  3. Economic crises were inevitable under capitalism because of the discrepancy between the purchasing power of workers and total production. These crises would be resolved only if the private ownership of the means of production is abolished and the profit motive eliminated from the system of production. With this, production would be carried on for social good rather than for profits for a few
  4. The exploiting classes would disappear and a classless society would emerge in which there would be no difference between what was good for the individual and for society as a whole.

Marx and Engels believed that this would be accomplished by the working class which was the most revolutionary class in capitalist society. They advocated that the emancipation of the working class would emancipate the whole human race from all traces of social injustice.

Around the time the Communist Manifesto was published, revolutions broke out in almost every country in Europe. You have read about these revolutions of 1848 before. These revolts aimed at the overthrow of autocratic governments, establishment of democracy and also, in countries such as Italy and Germany, at national unification. One of the major forces in these revolutions were the workers who had been inspired by ideas of socialism. The Communist League participated in these revolutions in many countries. However, all these revolutions were suppressed.

After 1848 revolution

With the failure of the 1848 revolutions, the socialist movement seems to have abated. However, it was soon to rise in strength again. One of the outstanding features of the various socialist groups was their internationalist character. You have read about the Communist League before. In Britain, an organisation called the Society of Fraternal Democrats had been formed in 1846. It had close links with other similar organizations in Europe and with the Chartists in Britain. All these organisations emphasized the idea that the cause of the working class in all countries was the same. A leader of the Society of Fraternal Democrats, for example, said in 1848, “I appeal to the oppressed classes in every country to Unite for the common cause.” The people, according to him, were the workers and peasants, and the cause of the people was “the cause of labour, of labour enslaved and exploited….In all countries there are people who grow corn and eat potatoes, who make clothes and wear rags, who build houses and live in wretched hovels. Do not the workers of all nations have the same reason for complaint and the same causes of distress? Have they not, therefore, the same just cause?’ It was these ideas of international solidarity that were to remain the fundamental features of the socialist movement in the coming years.

The First International, 1864

One of the most important events in the history of the socialist movement was the formation in 1864 of the International Working Men’s Association, or the First International, as it is called. With its formation, it has been said, “Socialism stepped on the stage of history as a world movement”. The meeting at which it was formed took place in London and was attended by delegates from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and Switzerland. Marx drafted ‘An Address to the Working Classes’ which has become famous as the ‘Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association’. This “Address” along with the General Rules outlined the principles and aims of the International. The emancipation of the working classes, it was declared, must be won by the working classes themselves. The central aim of the International was declared to be the total ‘abolition of all class rule’. The universal character of the struggle of the working class was emphasized. The Address ended with the slogan, as in the Communist Manifesto, “Proletarians of all lands, unite!”

From the time of its formation, the International was considered by the governments of the time as a menace and attempts were made to exterminate it. It was persecuted and declared illegal in many countries.

During the short period of its existence, the International exercised a tremendous influence on workers’ movements in Europe and North America. It played a particularly important role in creating bonds of international solidarity by arranging aid from workers of many countries in support of the workers’ struggle in any particular country. For example, when in 1867, 5000 bronze workers in Paris who had formed a union were threatened with dismissal, the International collected money for them; from workers in other countries and forced the ‘factory owners to withdraw their threats. Though its membership was not very large, it was feared by the rulers for the sense of workers’ solidarity that it had succeeded in creating.

One of the finest examples of workers’ solidarity was evidenced at the time of the war between Prussia and France in 1870. You have read about this war earlier in the context of the unification of Germany. The war was condemned both by the German and French workers as a crime committed by the French and Prussian dynasties. The French and German branches of the International sent messages of good wishes and solidarity to each other. The Social Democratic Party in Germany in a message to the French workers, said,

“…we shall never forget that the workers of all nations are our friends and the despots of all nations are our enemies.” After the defeat of the French army, the German government announced its intention to annex Alsace-Lorraine from France. The German workers protested against this and there were many demonstrations in various cities of Germany. All the leaders of German workers were arrested on charges of treason.

The Paris Commune, 1871

The war between France and Prussia led to another important development—an uprising by the workers of Paris and the seizure of-power by-them. This is one of the most important events in the history of socialism. Within a few weeks of the war the French army had been defeated and the French emperor Louis Bonaparte had been taken prisoner. A new government had come into being and had declared France a republic. This government was dominated by the propertied classes and had agreed to Bismarck’s terms for truce including the surrender of Paris, cession of Alsace-Lorraine and the payment of a huge war indemnity. The workers of Paris regarded the surrender by the government as treacherous. They refused to surrender. The government withdrew from Paris on 18 February 1871 and asked for German help to crush Paris. The workers of Paris elected a council which on 28 March 1871 assumed the title of the Paris Commune. It was elected by universal adult franchise and represented the workers and the lower middle classes of Paris. It proclaimed as its aim “the ending…of exploitation, stock-exchange speculation, monopolies and privileges to which the proletariat attributes its slavery, and the fatherland its misery and ruin”. All public offices were elected by universal suffrage with people having the right to recall.

The Paris Commune was the result of an upsurge in which the workers had played the dominant role, the result of the first workers’ revolution in history. It was soon drowned in blood. The French government which had established its headquarters in Versailles attacked Paris with a huge army. In this they received the help of Germany also. The attacks on Paris had begun in April. On 21 May the troops entered Paris. The battle continued in the city of Paris up to 28 May when the Commune was finally exterminated. The government which had surrendered to the German invaders, however, turned on the workers of Paris with unusual ferocity. It is estimated that between 14,000 to 30,000 defenders of the Commune were slaughtered in the streets of Paris or killed by firing squads. Thousands were deported and imprisoned. The French government called it the victory of order, justice and civilization. The International’s address on the Commune to its members, written by Marx, concluded with the words, “Working Men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them”.

The demise of 1st international

The extermination of the Commune was followed by systematic attempts to destroy the International in almost every country of Europe. The International had organised support for the Commune and after its destruction was engaged in aiding the refugees from Paris. It appeared to gain strength in many countries of Europe inspite of the fact that the revolution in Paris had been suppressed. However, soon it collapsed as a result of internal differences. The International was not a homogeneous organisation. It represented many different trends in. the workers’ movement. Due to differences on aims and methods, it was split in 1872 and was formally dissolved in 1876. In the meantime, however, the socialist parties in many countries of Europe had begun to grow and after a few years they were to unite and form another International.

The Second International

When the First International was formed, there did not exist well-organised socialist parties: there were only a few groups. However, in the 1870’s and the 1880s in almost every country in Europe socialist parties were formed. Some of them became quite strong having lakhs of members. They participated in national elections and in some countries came to have a fairly large representation in the parliament. Similarly, the strength and membership of the trade unions also increased and there were many strikes. For example the German Socialist Party had polled over 750,000 votes in 1887. It was the largest socialist party in Europe. In Britain, where the trade unions had a membership of a million had been formed the Social Democratic Federation, The Socialist League and the Fabian Society. In France there were many socialist parties. There were socialist parties in every other country of Europe with varying strength and in USA and some other countries in the Americas. Socialist began to take root in Japan in the 1890’s. Thus though the First International had been dissolved, the movement had become a mass movement.

To unite the socialist parties in various countries into an international organisation, a Congress was held in Paris on 14 July 1889, the centenary of the French Revolution of 1789. The result of this was what has come to be known as the Second International. The formation of the Second International a new stage in the history of socialism. An important step taken at the Congress was to make the first May every year as a day of working class solidarity. It was decided to organise on that day a great international demonstration in such a way what “the in all lands and cities will simultaneously demand from the powers that be a limitation the working day to eight hours.

On the first May 1890, millions of workers all over Europe and America Struck work and held massive demonstrations. Since then the first of May is observed as the international class day all over the world.

The period after the formation a the Second International saw a steady increase in the strength of the socialist parties and of trade unions. In 1914, the membership of the socialist party of Germany was over a million and it had polled over 4 million in France, the socialists has polled about 1.4 million votes; in Austria, over a million. The total number of trade union membership in Germany, Britain and France alone was about 8 million. The socialist and workers’ movement had become a major force in almost every country of Europe.

2nd international: achievements

The most significant achievements of the Second International were its campaign against militarism and war and in asserting the principle of the basic equality of all peoples and their right to freedom and national independence. The period from the last decade of the 19th century saw the growing militarization of every country in Europe. It was a period when war seemed imminent and every country was spending increasingly huge sums in preparing for it. Europe was getting divided into groups of warring blocs, the struggle for colonies being the main cause of conflicts between them. The struggle against militarism and the prevention of war became the major aims of the Second International and of the socialist parties affiliated to it. They expressed the conviction that capitalism was the root cause of war. They also resolved that while wars could be ended only with the destruction of capitalism, it was the duty of the socialists to prevent their occurrence and, if they broke out, to bring about their speedy end. The second International also decided that the socialists should utilize the “economic and political crisis created by the war, to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist rule”. The socialist movement had made the international solidarity of workers as a fundamental principle. When Russia and Japan were warring on each other, the leader of the Japanese socialist group and the leader of the Russian socialists were made the joint presidents of the Second International at its Congress in 1904. The socialists in many countries had resolved to call for a general strike to prevent their countries from participating in wars. They suffered at the hands of their governments who were preparing for war. Jean Jaures, the great leader of the French socialists was assassinated on the eve of the First World War for campaigning against war.

2nd International: cry against colonialism

The Second International also condemned colonialism and committed the socialist parties to oppose the robbery and subjugation of colonial peoples. The 1904 Congress was attended by the Grand Old Man of the Indian national movement, Dadabhai Naoroji, who pleaded the cause of India’s freedom. He was supported by the British delegates at the Congress. The President asked the Congress “to treat with the greatest reverence the statement of the Indian delegate, an old man of eighty, who had sacrificed fifty-five years of his life to the struggle for the freedom and happiness of his people”. When Dadabhai Naoroji went to the rostrum, he was greeted with tumultuous cheers and applause.

2nd International: Limitations

In spite of its many achievements and its growing strength, the Second International suffered from many weaknesses. Unlike the First International, it was a loose federation of socialist parties of many countries. While the socialist parties in many countries had become mass parties, basic differences had arisen among them.

While some sections believed in the necessity of a revolution to overthrow capitalism, others began to believe that socialism could be achieved through gradual reforms. The latter were willing to support the existing governments in certain circumstances. Some sections in the socialist parties even favoured colonialism.

On the question of war, while the attitude of the Second International was clear, many socialist parties had serious differences. Some of them thought that if they organised opposition to the war, they would be crushed. They were also not willing, as the Second International had recommended, to utilize the war, once it had broken out, to promote revolution. It was on the question of the war that the Second International suffered a fatal blow. When the First World War broke out, most of the socialist parties extended their support to their respective governments. This had serious consequences for the socialist movement. The Second International ceased to function and the socialist movement in every country was split. With the outbreak of the First World War, an important phase in the history of the socialist movement came to a close.


  1. Though the socialist movement did not succeed in bringing about a socialist revolution in any country in the 19th century, it brought about widespread awareness of the problems created by capitalism and the inadequacies of democracy.
  2. It also emerged as a powerful political movement in a number of countries. It was to play an increasingly important role in the coming years all over the world, making socialism, along with democracy and nationalism, the dominating factor in the history of the world in the 20th century.


  1. Explain the following terms: Third Estate, Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Junkers, Paris Commune, Means of Production, Socialism, Utopian Socialists.
  2. Identify the following people, telling the part each played in the revolutions and movements described in this chapter: Jefferson, Washington, Thomas Paine, Louis XVI, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Napoleon, Simon Bolivar, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, Bismarck, Babeuf, Karl Marx.
  3. Explain briefly the conditions that brought about the American and French revolutions.
  4. What were the main ideas behind the French Revolution?
  5. Explain why the following documents were ‘revolutionary’ when they were written: Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, Communist Manifesto.
  6. Explain the impact of the French Revolution on the Spanish colonies in America.
  7. Describe the different stages in the unification of Germany and Italy.
  8. When was the First International formed? What were its main contributions to the growth of the socialist movement?
  9. When was the Second International formed? For which other great event is that year important? What were the main aims of the Second International?
  10. Select a suitable scale to show events on a time-line beginning with 1774 and ending with 1871. Show on this timeline the revolutions and movements described in this chapter and the various events connected with them.
  11. Write a paper entitled ‘People Revolt when Conditions become Unbearable’, using the revolutions as evidence.
  12. Read the ‘revolutionary documents’ cited in No.5 above and select statements for a bulletin board display under the heading ‘Ideas that Caused Revolutions’.
  13. Preparing essays on the lives of persons who participated in the revolutionary movements of countries other than their own
  14. Read a few documents connected with socialist movement and select statements for a bulletin board display, under the heading ideas of socialism
  15. what is sociopolitical revolution? Why revolutions often violent? When can a revolution be called successful?
  16. Which of the revolutions seem to have brought about the greatest change to the country where the revolution occurred? Give reasons for your answer
  17. do you think that each of the revolutions and moments described in this chapter truthfully be called a step forward in the progress of men? Why or why not
  18. why did France help the revolutionary forces in the American Revolution?
  19. Why did the achievement of national unity in Germany and Italy not result in the establishment of republics in these countries?
  20. Why read the aims of the socialist movement internationalist in the character from the very beginning?
  21. Discuss the role of Karl Marx in the history of Socialist movement.

For more on world history, visit mrunal.org/history