Defining the Left Socialism, Democracy, and the People
DEMOCRACY AND SOCIETY: VISIONS OF A JUST WORLD
Calls for democracy were linked during the era of the French Revolution to more elaborate visions of the just society, organized around an ideal of independent small property and local self-government. In traditions of pop- ular democracy, this linkage went back to the English Revolution in the seventeenth century and the ideals of the Levellers; in the eighteenth century it reemerged in the plebian radicalism of the American Revolution and related movements in the Low Countries and Britain. During the 1790s, such movements acquired the general name of Jacobinism. Their pursuit of local democracy was greatly inspired by the insurgency of Parisian trades- men, shopkeepers, and impecunious professionals, reaching its apogee in the militancy of the sans-culottes during 1792–94.2
This radical democracy of small property holders dominated the pop- ular insurgencies flaring across Europe at various times in the 1820s, in
1830–31, and during the tumults of 1848. It flourished best amid large concentrations of handicrafts, where commercial growth both stimulated the skilled trades and assailed them with a new business uncertainty or where industrialism degraded them into systems of outwork and “protoin- dustry.” It fed on the teeming environment of Europe’s capital cities, which brought artisans together with shopkeepers, small traders, lawyers and other professionals, book dealers, journalists, and grubstreet intellectuals to compose the familiar Jacobin coalition. Democratic movements might extend upward to elements of the recognized political nation or downward into the peasantry. Closer to 1848, they were augmented by students and some proletarianized workers. This pattern first registered in the last quar- ter of the eighteenth century—in the American colonies; in London, Nor- wich, and other centers of English Jacobinism; in Belfast and lowland Scot- land; in Warsaw; in the Low Countries, Switzerland, northern Italy, and other areas of native radicalism paralleling the French; and of course in Paris.3
These were societies experiencing an early capitalist transition, where market forces were already transforming existing relations of production but where older popular ideologies of the just society endured. Inequalities among merchants, masters, and men widened, and large parts of the coun- tryside became proletarianized through the expansion of cottage industry. But this transitional world still supported the idealized political projections of the protesting rural outworker, displaced journeyman, and respectable
master artisan, with their belief in a moral economy and the commonwealth of all producers. Desires to protect and restore traditional forms of small- scale production could still be sustained, if not by a paternalist government then via radical visions of federated exchange and cooperation among self- governing units of independent producers. The permanence, future direc- tion, and irreversibility of capitalist industrialization had yet to be clearly perceived.
Yet even as this
lations. Certainly the speed
of these developments can
Conditions varied industry by industry. Some divisions of labor and technologies of production were kinder to craftsmen than others. Artisans disappeared rapidly in the more obviously modern industries, like iron and steel from the late nineteenth century and the highly mechanized new sec- tors of chemicals and electrical engineering from the start of the twentieth, followed by the pathbreaking mass production industries in automobiles, aircraft, appliances, and other forms of assembly between the wars. In less capital-intensive branches like textiles and large areas of light manufacture, artisans fared much better, as these combined outwork and unskilled
“sweated” labor with craft production using workshop-based hand tech- nologies. Other industries—like construction, carpentry, printing, leather- working, glass-making, shipbuilding, metalworking, and in a different way mining—continued to need handicraft workers of a very traditional sort. Yet, whether we focus on newly created categories of industrial labor or reconstituted forms of older skills, the capitalist reorganizing of the econ- omy through industrialization necessarily changed the worker’s place in society. Artisans increasingly lost control of their trades to the impersonal forces of the capitalist market. They surrendered the autonomy of the workshop to practical forms of dependence on larger-scale business orga- nization, before eventually becoming integrated directly into superordinate
structures of capitalist production, employment, and control. Once that happened, social ideals of small-scale organization, local community, and personal independence became far harder to sustain. That is, under con- ditions of capitalist industrialization the implications of demanding popular sovereignty became profoundly transformed.
Gradually and unevenly, democracy became linked to two new de- mands: an economic analysis of capitalism and a political program for the general reorganizing of society. The new ideas didn’t follow inevitably from socioeconomic change. But in the most general way, changes in the dem- ocratic idea clearly had this material source. They resulted from the serious efforts of political thinkers, and countless ordinary women and men, to understand the disruptions of their accustomed world. It was in that mo- ment of transformation that people began exploring the possibilities of col- lective ownership and cooperative production. And in that juncture of so- cioeconomic change and political rethinking the ideas of socialism were born.
Thus democracy was always embedded in social history. Both the rad- ical democracy deriving from the French Revolution and the early socialism emerging from the 1830s entailed packages of practical socioeconomic de- mands. Such demands were deemed an essential accompaniment of genuine democracy, and this now became measured not by the centrality of small propertied independence but by the advent of a new collectivism. More- over, socialist ideas had a power and resonance of their own. They became diffused, embodied in institutions, and fixed into social relations; they en- tered people’s consciousness and behavior, becoming powerful motivations in their own right. The replacement of one kind of democracy by another entailed more than merely adjustment to a changing society, through which popular awareness eventually caught up with the new conditions. It was also a contest of ideas, with long and undecided results.4
The later nineteenth century became the scene of much confusion, as societies, regions, and economic structures shifted in different ways and at different speeds and as the distinctive socialist ideal of democracy—“the social democracy,” as the pioneers called it—struggled to take form. Earlier democratic ideas showed remarkable tenacity in the subsequent socialist movements. Given European unevenness, that “earlier period” in any case meant not just the era between the late eighteenth century and 1848 but extended well into the 1860s in Germany, Italy, and central Europe and later still in the peripheries of the south and east. That older radical heritage was only finally left behind after 1917–18 via processes of dramatic clari- fication going back to the 1890s. The history of the socialist tradition be- fore 1914 was still in many ways a working-through of older legacies, as socialist politicians tried to decide what they owed to earlier democratic traditions and what these traditions could no longer provide.5
DEMOCRACY MADE SOCIAL
If capitalist industrialization transformed the conditions under which dem- ocratic ideals had to be pursued, the social meanings of those ideals also changed. As the term “socialism” entered into general currency after 1850, this was the transition it was used to express. “Social” came to signify something more than the common system of institutions and relationships in which people lived and started to imply a desirable contrast to the emer- gent capitalist form of society. It came to mean “an idea of society as mutual cooperation,” as opposed to one based on “individual competi- tion.” Indeed, the “individualist form of society” associated with the new system of wage labor and private property became rejected as “the enemy of truly social forms” in this sense. Thus “[r]eal freedom could not be achieved, basic inequalities could not be ended, [and] social justice . . . could not be established, unless a society based on private property was replaced by one based on social ownershipand control.”6
In this way, democracy’s advocates gradually faced the consequences of progress. In 1848, “social-democracy” had still meant just the far left wing of the radical coalitions.7 But as capitalist relations penetrated ever-larger regions of socioeconomic life, it became harder and harder to generalize the immediate circumstances of independent small producers into programs for organizing the economy as a whole. This opened the space where so- cialist thinking could begin to emerge as a new and plausible option.
This space expanded once liberalism crystallized into an ideology cele- brating an entirely individualist type of society. As liberal ideas invaded public policy during the mid–nineteenth century, socialism became ever more serviceable for analyzing their harmful effects. The causal connections between private property, individualist philosophies, and an economically founded system of class domination became ever easier to make. On the one hand, that society increasingly conceded certain formal equalities of citizens under the law, including after the 1860s even limited forms of the right to vote. On the other hand, extreme material inequalities were still defended by liberals as essential preconditions for the system.
The economics of democracy became the Left’s insistent preoccupation in the second half of the nineteenth century. For radical democrats of an earlier time, private property held within modest limits was a social ideal to be defended against the rapacity of parasites and speculators. But for socialists, private property itself was the source of social ill. While liberals consciously worked for the separation of the economic from the political sphere, socialists came to see that very separation as a debilitating discrep- ancy. Or, as Jean Jaure`s, the French Socialist leader before 1914, put it:
“Just as all citizens exercise political power in a democratic manner, in common, so they must exercise economic power in common as well.”8
Accordingly, social democracy came to signify not only the most radical
form of parliamentary government but also the desire to extend democratic precepts to society at large, including the organization of the economy. This—the making social of democracy—was the crucial post-1848 depar- ture.
By the last third of the nineteenth century, socialists were challenging political definitions of democracy with a new question: how can genuine democracy be achieved in a society fundamentally structured by class ine- qualities of ownership, distribution, and control? On this basis, the main features of socialist economic policy became hotly debated—cooperation, public ownership and the socializing of production, industrial democracy, and planned direction of the economy. But of course, as most socialist governments have found, any attempt to democratize the economy in the name of such policies encounters all manner of vested interests with priv- ileged access to political, bureaucratic, and ideological power. In practice, democratic goals can only ever be pursued against the resistance of domi- nant social groups.
The decisive political and philosophical question then becomes: how far can attacks on the legitimacy of private interests stay compatible with the democratic principle, without requiring the use of force and the damaging of basic rights, while the new collectivist system is being installed? This question has caused the Left endless difficulties over the years, as I will show. How it tended to be resolved became one of the main dividing lines between reformist and revolutionary movements.
DEMOCRACY’S GENDERED HORIZON
Socialism’s belief in democracy’s social determinants and constraints—the salience of the social in social democracy—was a fundamental broadening of the democratic idea. But in other ways, the latter remained seriously foreshortened. For most of the early democratic movements, except for the utopian socialists in the earlier nineteenth century, popular sovereignty re- mained a male preserve. Chartism in Britain, as the most impressive of these early movements, made this especially clear, because its famous Six Points for democratizing the constitution drawn upin 1837–38 expressly excluded votes for women.9 By the end of the nineteenth century, European socialist parties had certainly become the foremost advocates of women’s political rights, but female enfranchisement had still made virtually no progress by
1914. Women had the vote only in certain parts of the North American West and four of the world’s parliamentary states: New Zealand in 1893, Australia in 1903, Finland in 1906, and Norway in 1913.10
In labor movements, women’s second-class citizenshipwas linked to explicitly discriminatory thinking consigning them to the family, household management, and ancilliary economic roles, whether paid or not. In agrar- ian and preindustrial societies, these patriarchal forms of the household
economy were secured via systems of property holding and inheritance. In handicrafts, they found their urban counterpart in systems of apprentice- ship, legal regulation, and guild exclusion, defining skill and the practice of a trade as a form of property privileged to men. Industrialization then added its own aggressively gendered images of the imagined family econ- omy, in which the wages of skilled working men would support orderly and respectable households where wives had no need of a job. Few working-class households actually matched this ideal. Working-class wives mustered unbounded resourcefulness for economic survival, supplementing their husbands’ wages by foraging, marginal cultivation, casual services like laundry, cleaning, and childminding, petty trading, cottage industry and home work, and waged work of many kinds. But through the norms of the male “breadwinner” and the “family wage,” the ideal exercised pow- erful effect. Whatever their actual economic behavior, working-class wives were placed ideologically inside the home and beyond the waged economy. Thus, socialism’s official supportiveness for women’s rights usually con- cealed a practical indifference to giving them priority in the movement’s work. Where neither working men nor working women possessed the vote, left-wing movements refused to back women’s suffrage until the men’s fran- chise was won. But where manhood suffrage already prevailed, women’s rights became subordinated to economic issues. Either way, women were expected to wait. Here, socialism’s grasp of democracy’s social context worked to women’s specific disadvantage, because the primacy of econom- ics reduced everything else to a secondary concern. The more consistent the socialism, one might even say, the more easily feminist demands were post- poned to the socialist future, because a sternly materialist standpoint in- sisted that none of these questions could be tackled while capitalism per-
Such an attitude precluded a more radical approach to the “woman question,” as it came to be known. But this wasn’t simply a failure of political perception or a consequence of the socialist tradition’s more ma- terialist theory. It was also the result of deeper ideological structures, de- riving from older systems of masculine superiority. These were located partly in the family, partly in the strength of society’s dominant values, and partly in gendered divisions of labor in the economy. But precisely because such patterns were so deeply embedded in the conditions of working-class life, they proved extraordinarily resistant to anything but the most forth- right of political critiques. And this the socialist tradition was manifestly unwilling to provide. Behind the labor movements’ neglect of women’s is- sues were historically transmitted patterns of gendered culture, which left- wing politicians consistently failed to challenge and invariably endorsed. This was one of democracy’s most egregious limitations. While it led to broader codification of women’s demands in socialist party programs, in- dustrialization not so much subverted older patterns of female subordina- tion as reproduced them in new ways. Just as the earlier democratic politics
bequeathed lasting legacies to the socialist parties, which were only con- sciously sorted through in the decades surrounding the First World War, so the earlier assumptions about women’s place constrained the Left’s abil- ity to imagine a gender politics that was genuinely egalitarian. Until the specific concerns of women were consciously addressed—until socialism also became feminist—the pursuit of democracy would stay severely incom- plete.
Socialist downgrading of women’s issues was all the worse for the prom- inence before 1914 of impressive women’s mobilizations—in the various national suffrage movements, in educational politics and social reform, in relation to women’s industrial work, and in largely intellectual or bohemian movements for sexual emancipation. It was precisely in many such areas that masculine privilege was directly called into question. Strong notions of women’s reproductive rights and liberated sexuality were already emerg- ing, reaching fuller expression in the 1920s. As those movements made clear, deficiencies of left-wing thinking in gender terms could only be rem- edied by bringing politics directly into the personal sphere.
But a full exposure of such questions has only really dated from the
1960s with the emergence of present-day feminism, which challenged the older Left across a broad front of previously neglected issues. The late- nineteenth-century transition from radical to socialist democracy estab- lished a pattern lasting for the next hundred years: namely, principled sup- port for women’s rights on the basis of a broadened social program but within an overall economism that in practice consistently downgraded the priority of the women’s struggle. Post-1968 feminism proved vital in bring- ing these questions onto the Left’s agenda. Both for the character of the contemporary Left in the last third of the twentieth century and for revis- iting the earlier periods, recent feminist critiques became indispensable. In- deed, by battling its demands to the center of public debate, via painful conflicts that were certainly not complete, contemporary feminism com- pelled a rethinking of the viable terms of the socialist project and in the process profoundly redefined the Left.
THE PARTY AND THE PEOPLE
The modern mass party, which became the prevailing model of political mobilization in general between the 1890s and the 1960s, was invented by socialists in the last third of the nineteenth century. By our own time, it had fallen into disrepute and was described increasingly as the enemy of democracy rather than its bulwark. Late-twentieth-century radical demo- crats condemned bureaucratic centralism and secretive decision-making as distortions of democratic process, whether in their Communist or social democratic guise. Parties were no longer seen as the vectors of the people’s will but as instruments of manipulation, anonymous machines removed
from the grass roots, protected against popular accountability. In light of such disillusionment, therefore, it’s important to grasp the democratic pur- poses the socialist model of the party was originally meant to serve, and this is best accomplished by examining the earlier organizational forms that preceded the turn to socialist parliamentarianism after the 1860s.
One of these was the local workers’ association. From their beginnings between the 1840s and 1860s, working-class clubs subsequently became adapted into the cellular basis for the new national labor movements, whether in the form of the socialist party local in northern and central Europe or as the syndical “chamber of labor” in the south. During the first half of the nineteenth century, though, the Left was also identified with the spectacle of revolution—with the imagery of barricades, popular uprisings, and the toppling of monarchies from power. Before the importance of the party for socialism could be established, therefore, an older model of po- litical transformation had to be laid to rest, namely, the conspiratorial tra- dition most associated with the indefatigible revolutionism of Auguste Blan- qui.11
Inspired by the drama of the French Revolution’s most radical phase in
1792–93, Blanquism conceived the revolution as an exemplary act trigger- ing a general uprising of the people, directed by a secret revolutionary brotherhood whose dictatorshipwould secure the results. This thinking originated with Gracchus Babeuf and his quixotic “Conspiracy of the Equals,” which sought to salvage the French Revolution’s radical momen- tum in 1796. Babeuf’s legacy was then transmitted through the career of his surviving comrade, Filipo Buonarroti, and thence to Blanqui.12 The “art of insurrection” flourished during the most overbearing phase of the post-
1815 Restoration in
1830 and 1848, which owed so little to organized preparation. But the fiasco of Blanqui’s failed Parisian uprising of 1839 was a far more fitting verdict on his conspiratorial ideal.
The point about Blanquism was its profoundly undemocratic character. The conspiratorial ideal postulated a small secretive e´lite acting on behalf of a popular mass, whose consent was to be organized retroactively by systematic reeducation but who in the meantime couldn’t be trusted. Log- ically enough, Blanquists opposed universal suffrage until after the revo- lution. They were bored if not repelled by the popular democratic politics actually developing between the 1830s and 1870s, as the repression origi- nally justifying conspiratorial methods slowly and partially eased. In con- trast, Karl Marx and the social democratic tradition inaugurated in the
1860s decisively repudiated conspiratorial vanguards and their fantasies of
insurrection. The possible need for the revolution’s armed defense against counterrevolutionary violence by the ruling class was left open. But be- tween 1871 and 1917 the dominant model of revolutionary politics for socialist parties now hinged on the democratic promise of an irresistible parliamentary majority. The Paris Commune of 1871, which displayed both the heroism and the tragic limitations of the earlier insurrectionary tradition, became the key watershed. Its failure showed the need for dem- ocratic methods beyond the conspiratorial horizon.
Henceforth, the pure insurrectionary mode became the property of an- archists, for whom in this respect Michael Bakunin became the leading voice.13 After the decisive debates of the First International in 1868–72, which secured the victory of parliamentarist perspectives within the Left, Blanquism lost coherence. Conspiratorial methods lacked purpose in an age of popular suffrage, elections, and parliamentary debates. Insurrectionism survived among the Spanish anarchists, with a wider European revival dur- ing the syndicalist pursuit of the revolutionary general strike after 1900. But for anarcho-syndicalists, the insurrectionary fantasy became divorced from the ealier conspiratorial precepts. A genuine uprising of the people had no need of any directive leadershipin that sense. “Strong men need no leaders,” Spanish anarchists like to say.
Conspiratorial methods resurfaced from time to time. Spanish anar- chism remained the main source. The libertarian anarcho-syndicalist fed- eration formed in 1919, the Confederacio´ n Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), was the opposite of a centrally managed trade-union bureaucracy or party machine. But it was matched by the clandestine Federacio´ n Anarquista Ib- e´rica (FAI) formed in 1927, the quintessence of elitist and conspiratorial revolutioneering. This contradiction between high-flown libertarian rheto- ric, which inspired ordinary supporters to acts of life-endangering mili- tancy, and the authoritarianism of the underground plotting that sent them to their deaths, was Michael Bakunin’s main legacy. Such activity spilled easily into terrorism. Its temptations remained strongest at times of repres- sion or defeat, when chances for public agitation were most reduced: in tsarist Russia in the later 1870s and early 1880s and again in the early
The more troubling of these earlier legacies remained vanguardism—the idea that minorities of disciplined revolutionaries, equipped with sophisti- cated theories and superior virtue, could anticipate the direction of popular hopes, act decisively in their name, and in the process radicalize the masses. Given democracy’s imperfections and the complex reciprocities of leaders and led, this remained a recurring problem of political organization in gen- eral, because even in the most perfect of procedural democracies a certain latitude necessarily fell to the leadership’s discretion, beyond the sovereign people’s practical reach. As a rule, however, except when driven under- ground, the socialist and Communist parties of the twentieth century or-
ganized their supporters on the largest scale via systems of procedural de- mocracy, competed in elections, worked through parliaments and local government, and participated in the public sphere.
In that vital sense, socialist constitutionalism was founded on the ruins of the older Blanquist understanding of how revolutions were made. The socialist model of the mass party, campaigning openly for public support and parliamentary representation on a national scale, and organizing its own affairs by the internal democracy of meetings, resolutions, agreed pro- cedures, and elected committees, was the vital departure. It was the crucial democratic breakthrough of the nineteenth century’s last four decades.
SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND DEMOCRATIC
The other major precursors of the labor movements establishing themselves after the 1860s were the utopian socialists, traditionally patronized and dismissed by the later tradition, from moderate parliamentarians and trade unionists to social democrats and Communists alike. Marxists in particular, taking their cue from Friedrich Engels’s tract Socialism: Utopian and Sci- entific, repeatedly translated and reprinted after its initial appearance in
1878–80, saw these early exponents of socialism as nai¨ve philosophers in- adequately capturing the social logic of the new capitalist age, at best anticipating bits and pieces of the “scientific socialism” developed after the
1840s by Karl Marx.15 Lacking the moorings of a “mature” working-class presence in society, it was implied, thinkers like Claude Henri de Saint- Simon, Franc¸ois-Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen could only ever have produced visionary blueprints of an ideal society, which the realities of the class struggle and the collective agency of the future labor movements would inevitably supersede.
Their writings—Saint-Simon’s Letters from an Inhabitant of Geneva
(1802), Fourier’s Theory of the Four Movements (1808), and Owen’s New View of Society (1812–16)—gave much license for this verdict. In deliberate contradistinction to organized Christianity, they centered a new “science of man” on human nature, advancing social cooperation against the ego- tism, individualism, and competition that currently reigned. Saint-Simon gave rational and progressive centrality in the new society to all those per- forming productive functions, from industrialists to scientists and engineers, professional men, and laborers. In the absence of aristocrats, kings, and priests, these “industrialists” would replace privilege, competition, and la- ziness with functional hierarchy, mutualism, and productivity. Relying on a more elaborate and fanciful psychology, as well as a frequently bizarre cosmology, Fourier projected minutely specified self-contained communi- ties, whose intricate complementarities of tasks and functions would guar- antee the happiness of all. Owen designed his New Lanark cotton mills to
show the origins of cooperation in healthy social arrangements, including generous working hours and conditions, social insurance, educational pro- vision, rational recreation, and good housing.16
The utopians’ chosen medium of small-scale experimental communities, Fourier’s “phalansteries” and Owen’s “Villages of Cooperation,” had no connection to labor movements, because their ideas were conceived well before working-class political activity developed, and indeed before the term “socialist” itself was coined in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Uto- pian socialism contained no critique of capitalist economics, focusing rather around religious and philosophical issues—“equality versus hierarchy, hu- man uniformity versus differentiation of human types, the speed of social transformation, self-interest or ‘devotion’ (altruism) as the mainspring of human and socialist progress, the relationship between socialism and reli- gion.”17 It prioritized popular education, seeking to reveal “the mystery of social harmony and human happiness” through the ideal social arrange- ments of its communities. Religiosity was “inherent in the structure of early socialist thought.” Its main enemy was less the undemocratic state or the structure of the capitalist economy than the moral authority of established Christianity. “Its yardstick of judgment was its knowledge of the true na- ture of man, which excluded original sin and the laws and coercion based upon it.”18
Having failed to interest the governing e´lite in his theories of human perfectibility, Owen spent 1824–28 in the United States, where he spon- sored the model community of New Harmony in Indiana amid a broader rash of North American communitarian experiments.19 In the wake of these Owenite and similar initiatives by followers of Fourier and Saint-Simon, utopian ideas circulated remarkably widely, forming a vital reservoir for the labor movements already emerging in western Europe in the early
1830s.20 The explosive history of the Owenite Grand National Consoli- dated Trade Union, which flared briefly across Britain’s agitated political landscape in 1834, was especially notable. By the spread of E´ tienne Cabet’s
“Icarian” movement in the 1840s, named after his utopian novel Voyage of Icarus (1839), this culture of socialism, or “communism” as Cabet’s followers preferred, had become widely diffused in France too, particularly among those artisanal trades that were being industrialized via the use of cheap and unapprenticed labor, such as tailoring and shoemaking.21
Through the ferment linking the British reform agitation of 1829–32 with Chartism, and the 1831 and 1834 uprisings of the Lyons canuts (silk- weavers) with the 1848 Revolution, “socialist” language now came to de- fine a specifically working-class interest.22
In contrast to either
tradition, utopian socialism implied retreat from state-oriented thinking about democracy.
ish radical agitations, as had Saint-Simonians like Philippe Buchez and Pierre Leroux
Cabet learned much from Owenite trade unionism during his British exile in 1834–39, and after he returned to Paris his newspaper Le Populaire helped broaden French republicanism in socialist directions. Both Cabet and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon influenced early French socialism far more than historians have allowed, enunciating demands for government action and national political organization that belied the more nai¨ve utopianism often ascribed to them. Rather than embracing the full-scale communitarian ideal of secession from the existing competitive and selfishly individualist society, in fact, working-class politicians owed Owen, Fourier, and Saint- Simon a much looser general debt: ideals of “association,” “mutualism,” and “cooperation”; the rationalist and humanist critique of bourgeois so- ciety; and the practical conviction that human affairs could be differently and better ordered.23
For democracy’s longer term, utopian socialists left countervailing leg- acies. On the one hand, they clearly did retreat into apolitical and often outlandish forms of experimental community building, which left little us- able experience for labor movements trying to organize on a national scale. This flight from politics, and indeed from society itself, into small com- munal enclaves, symbolized by the transatlantic journey to the New World, left a silence on the subject of how the transition to a new type of society was politically to be carried out.24 Utopian socialists were similarly indif- ferent to political economy and the structural origins of class-structured inequality. Post-1860s social democrats explicitly repudiated both these as- pects of the earlier heritage.
On the other hand, the creative commitment to forms of small-scale community-based cooperation, extending more ambiguously toward par- ticipatory democracy, left a far more positive legacy. In the politics of Louis Blanc and other socialist radicals during the 1848 Revolution, the ideals of
“association” supported concrete demands for producer cooperatives and
“social workshops” to be financed by the French state, while for workers in central and eastern Europe during the 1860s cooperative ideals of col- lective self-helpprovided the commonest early encounter with socialism.25
Ideas of the “emancipation of labor” bespoke simple but passionate desires for a juster world, often framed by mythologies of a lost golden age, which in a crisis like 1848 could easily sustain belief in revolutionary transfor- mation. Likewise, the impulse for self-government, localized earlier in the physical spaces of New Harmony and the other utopian settlements, re- surged in the Paris Commune of 1871 as a more programmatic revolution- ary demand.
Most interestingly of all, the utopians practised an extremely radical politics of gender. Thus Fourier espoused the full equality of women with men, sexual freedoms, and the dismantlement of marriage, while Owenites attributed capitalism’s moral degradation (“the contagion of selfishness and the love of domination”) to “the uniform injustice . . . practised by man towards woman” in the family, which thereby functioned as “a center of
absolute domination.”26 Indeed, for Owenites the “competitive system” grew not just from the values inculcated by factories, churches, and schools but also from the familial organization of personal life: “Homo oecon- omicus, the atomized, competitive individual at the center of bourgeois culture, was the product of a patriarchal system of psycho-sexual rela- tions.”27 Any new way of life thus required a complete rethinking of inti- mate relations, so that the privatized family and its oppressive marriage laws could be replaced by communal arrangements and true equality. If mutuality became established both communally and between the sexes, one Owenite feminist argued, “then would woman be placed in a position in which she would not sell her liberties and her finest feelings.”28
This early feminism was enunciated at a time of generalized resistance to capitalist industry, when socialists could imagine saving society by re- making human character in the mold of cooperation. But if it was feasible during the 1830s to project a space of reformation beyond the capitalist framework, by the second half of the nineteenth century, as Barbara Taylor says, “there was far less ‘outside’ to go to,” and working-class organiza- tions now accepted the given basis of the wage relation.29 In the meantime, commitment to gender equality was lost. Visions of sexual freedom and alternatives to the patriarchal family were pushed to the dissident edges of the labor movements. Women were no longer addressed by means of an independent feminist platform but were treated as either mothers or poten- tial workers. The earlier belief in sexual equality (“women’s petty interests of the moment,” as the German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin put it) be- came swallowed into the class struggle. Or, as Eleanor Marx exhorted in
1892: “we will organize not as ‘women’ but as proletarians . . . for us there is nothing but the working-class movement.”30
Thus utopian socialism proved a moment of exceptional radicalism on the gender front, which remained unrecuperated until the late twentieth century. While Owen’s and Fourier’s foregrounding of moral reformation was easily dismissed by later nineteenth-century socialists, along with their indifference to a nationally organized politics of the class struggle, their critiques of the family and women’s subordination also fell casualty to these same dismissals. Henceforth, questions of sexuality, marriage, childraising, and personal life were largely consigned to a private sphere away from the central territory of politics. They ceased to be primary questions of socialist strategy.
TOWARD THE 1860s
During the nineteenth century, the Left forged its independence above all through its conflicts with liberalism. Liberals bitterly resisted democratic citizenship. In liberal theory, access to political rights required possession of property, education, and a less definable quality of moral standing—
what William Ewart Gladstone called “self-command, self-control, respect for order, patience under suffering, confidence in the law, and regard for superiors.”31 From Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville to the ideo- logues and practitioners of liberalism during its ascendancy of the 1860s and 1870s, including the most generous of radicals like John Stuart Mill, liberals consistently disparaged the civic capacities of the masses, reaching a crescendo of fear during the 1848 revolutions and the first pan-European surge of popular enfranchisement in 1867–71. In liberal discourse, “the democracy” was synonymous with rule of the mob.
Varying by country, labor movements accordingly separated themselves from liberals during the middle third of the nineteenth century. Just as socialists turned their backs on the locally organized cooperative utopia, they also substituted popular sovereignty for the free and sovereign liberal individual. From the 1860s, a socialist constitutionalism took shape that had little in common with the local projects of communal self- administration that first inspired socialist thinking earlier in the century. Socialists had previously functioned as junior elements in broadly liberal coalitions, occasionally gaining greater prominence through the radicalizing opportunities of a revolutionary crisis, as in 1848–49. They had also lob- bied for intermediate forms of producer cooperation backed by a reforming government, including national workshops or a people’s credit bank, bor- dering on the more ambitious schemes of Proudhon, Cabet, and other uto- pians. And finally, the Blanquist temptation of revolutionary conspiracy had also remained.
In all respects the 1860s proved a decisive break. Thereafter socialists in most of Europe put their hopes in a centrally directed party of parlia- mentary democracy coupled with a nationally organized trade union move- ment. The case for this kind of movement was successfully made in a series of bitterly conducted debates dominating the European Left from the early
1860s to the mid-1870s, for which the main forum was the International Working Men’s Association, or the First International, a new coordinating body created in 1864 and eventually closed down in 1876.32 Moreover, the rise of this social democratic model was decisively furthered by the growing prevalence in Europe of parliamentary constitutions linked to the principle of the national state, which received a spectacular push forward in the
1860s from German and Italian unification and the broader constitution- making upheavals of that decade. The enabling opportunities of the re- sulting liberal constitutionalism crucially affected the progress of the social democratic model.
The centralized politics of socialist constitutionalism now coalesced over a 50-year period within the framework of parties that began to be founded, country by country, in the 1870s. But local cultures of socialism and de- mocracy needed much remolding before social democracy could fully pre- vail. At the grassroots the interest in socialism kept a much stronger em- phasis on the local sovereignty of popular democratic action, bespeaking
that earlier radical heritage, which social democracy only partially managed to express. Mid-nineteenth-century popular movements had registered ex- ceptionally impressive levels of politicization, carrying the Left’s momentum far beyond its usual boundaries. In villages and small towns, as well as the larger urban agglomerations, militants fought the authorities over school- ing, recreation, religion, and other aspects of local everyday life. British Chartism was the most impressive of these movements, followed closely by the popular radicalisms of 1848–51 in France, where political clubs and workers’ corporations attained high peaks of activism in Paris and other towns and the Democratic-Socialists (“democ-socs”) permeated the vil- lages. More localized counterparts could be found in many other countries too between the 1840s and 1860s.33
How successfully such
when karl marx died in 1883,
organization barely existed in Europe—a united Socialist Workers’ Party in Germany, Danish and Dutch Social Democratic associ- ations, fledgeling parties in the Czech and Hungarian parts of the Habsburg Empire, a French Socialist Federation,
growths, subject to persecution. Yet
speaking central Europe, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, the Catholic south, tsarist Po- land and Habsburg Croatia, even the new states of
by country, an organized socialist presence. The remainder
peoples of the Habsburg Empire; Jews, Ukrainians, Finns, and Latvians under tsar- ism; and
This sense of forward
when Marx began his critique of capitalism. After
citement during 1848–50, Marx found him- self stranded in decidedly unrevolutionary
to the earlier hopes of a general European revolution mainly via the wan- derings and fantasies of refugees, Marx then sank his energies into books, laboring in the British Museum, intensively thinking and writing, giving his faith to the subterranean workings of history, where the “old mole” of revolution was still surely “grubbing away.”1 It was a decade before pop- ular politics began moving discernedly again. Only in the 1860s did the apparently solid stabilities of the post-1849 reaction come unstuck.
Bridging this huge gap—between
the continent in the 1790s, flaring from its French revolutionary source, only to
again in 1848, before order was inexorably restored. Of course, the Eu- ropean narratives
But it was only with the pan-European constitution-making of the 1860s that durable legal and political frameworks were created—national states with parliamentary institutions and the rule of law—through which dem- ocratic aspirations could achieve organized and continuous form. When democratic parties emerged from the 1870s, they were usually socialist. And the most important source for their guiding political perspectives was the thought and legacy of Karl Marx.
Adauga cod HTML in site