The development of the textile factories in Great Britain kicked off the European Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution capitalized on the sudden population growth at the time for workers on low wages. At the same time, this unprecedented event meant that there were no laws in place to protect these new factory workers.
Workers constantly worked more than 8 hours a day, and entire families–even the children–would be employed at the factories. These conditions made for extreme poverty, as urbanization rose. The cramped “masses of humanity” were a pitiful sight. These conditions gave rise to philosophers who conceptualized ideas of socialism.
French Revolution of 1789
Industrialization in France did not occur until the 1800s, as they lagged behind Great Britain. However, still pinned to the failing feudal system, the working class of France was beaten down and struggling. This led to the French Revolution in 1789. The nobility, suddenly taxed to support France’s wars, turned and taxed their people harder.
The peasants, or small land-owners, seized the Bastille when it seemed they would lose even more power. In what they did, through their temporary overthrow of the aristocracy, they gave credence to a European state run by the people. This was, in a way, the ideas of the new United States of America reaching across the Atlantic.
The Communist Manifesto
As the Industrial Revolution caught up with the rest of Europe, the plight of both the factory and the farm workers worsened. With the low dependence on the slower production capacities of the farms, families would either starve or become factory workers. Even then, their wages were so low as to make factory work only marginally better.
Seeing this oppression, and active in spreading their ideas about communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were requested to write The Communist Manifesto. 1848 was the publication’s release year, and it also started a wave of socialist parties all over Europe. It would be some time before the large revolutions, but the idea was planted.
The Soviet Model
The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was the first Communism-inspired overthrow of a modern European republic. After taking control of the country, Lenin’s Administration took over all of the nation’s means of production. It became active in central economic planning, and re-distributing the produce.
However, the strict command of the Soviet Government gave central economic planning a bad name. Politicization of industries and businesses was rampant, and there was little incentive for workers to be excellent because they were not competing. The Soviet Union also became uncompetitive globally.
The New Left
The New Left is the developed-country form of Socialism. It is very differentiated from the Soviet model of central planning, and has more to do with rights and equality than anything else. It began in the 1960s and 70s, the same time as the Civil Rights movement. Students started demonstrations and strikes, calling for rights to free speech and activity.
The New Left gained the most media exposure during the Vietnam War. The students, who followed Socialist ideas, organized protests and demonstrations against the war. After those issues, the New Left continued in both the United States and Europe, demonstrating for reforms, against inequality and discrimination.
A Brief History of Socialism Does Not Tell Half the Story
Ideas form in the blink of an eye, and develop very messily over time. They are applied to real-life situations even more messily. This brief history of Socialism only tells the few critical junctures that have marked the turning points of Socialist thought.