European History - Socialism in the Late Nineteenth Century

European History - Socialism in the Late Nineteenth Century

The well-known words of the Manifesto, which remembrance the menace that “A spectre is haunting Europe”, have shock the minds of half world during more than a century. The countries, in which the class struggles was becoming a reality, saw the spread of all kind of ideologies and streams in order to ensure benefits for the proletariat, being either crashed or channelled with the actions of governments that faced the problem. The objective of this work is not so ambitious to deal so huge framework of study, but to analyse a concrete question inside a determinate period of the history in which the Socialism represented a clear international reality.

The chronologic framework is presented principally in the last decade of the nineteenth century, although the decades before will be considered in order to release the historic facts of the shackle of time. The objective of this study is to analyse the problem of the Socialism like a menace for the politics regimes of the time. So, it will be considered the way in which the Socialist movement could threaten the basis of the establish governments, being not necessary to reflect about the economic, social or political realities of the moment, something which is far from the limits of this work.

One of the principal reasons of focus the analysis of the question inside the last decade of the century was principally the importance that gathered into the Socialist movement the Second International. Although is also meaningful other sides like the social or economic development of the period, that made the progress of new working class expressions. The Second International, founded in 1889, was the in some way a reaction against the phantoms of war that shattered neighbour nations –mainly the question of the Franco-German War of years before- trying to avoid another possible struggle .

The International was the expression of the working class solidarity to find solutions of the main problems surround them , but this meant that the problem which finally brought to an end the First one could threaten again to the Second one: the Anarchist question. The quarrels between the Socialist and the Anarchist finally finished with the expulsion of the latter ones from the congress.

The leading role of the SPD , the German Socialist Party, with a strong Marxist ideology, served to orientate the streams of the International far from radicalisms. The Marxism began to emerge in the 1870s according with a high degree of development of the capitalism ideas and with a more and more similarity of the social reality with the skilled working class .

But the reflection of the reject of Anarchist ideas was the set up of two main principles: the parliamentary-political action and the formation of independent working class parties. It declared an “extended period of peaceful evolution rather than imminent violent confrontation” . In the other hand there were two questions that affected to the contemporary political regimes, and were discussed inside the Second International before 1900. Firstly the colonial matter in which was decided a total repudiate towards it. The solidarity among oppressed and the equality of peoples and races was one of the main principles of Socialism. Secondly, it was the international war. The questions that arose were: the possibilities of a working class mobilisation like method of avoid the struggle, and the necessity of formation of militias to offset the role of the army –expression of the capitalist regimes- .

Apart that the political way was the preferable choice like labour demand in the dispositions of the International, the labour parties had had a previous development in decades before –sometimes like only method to express labour discontent-. At the end of the century the SPD had formed a complete institutional structure in order to ensure its political power and server like framework in most of aspects of labour life. But the membership was limit. The unskilled workers did not used to constitute their principals electors –Among the explications, it could be seen a more precarious economic and social situation which impeded to express freely their affiliation .

But at the end of the nineteenth century, the involve of the population in political questions were getting bigger with the development of a higher level education system and the spread of the popular press. This rise of membership could be checked in Britain, but is necessary to consider that this country change respects another, in the fact that the class struggle was slight. The advances towards a higher democratization in the electoral system –in order to diminish the danger of conflict- made possible a great interest in the working class towards political affairs .

Other way for the labourers to impose their demands were the strikes. Some countries had drunk from an old tradition of violence and mobilisation, like in France –The doctrines of Auguste Blanqui had wide support as well as the syndicalism in many municipalities -. Although it would be in Belgium where the general strike took important meaning. During the last two decades of the century, several strikes were shown as effective weapon of mobilisation and way to get some demands, like the suffrage universal . But in a general view, the quantitative and qualitative significance of the strikes in other countries was appreciated since 1890. The new labour conditions, subordinated by a greater degree of technology development, hardened the work relations and increased the demands of a more equally share of the higher benefits. Finally, all this carried that the Second International decided that when the electoral system wasn’t enough prepare to receive the labour demands it was possible to resort to the massive strike .

It can be said that the politic regimes in the 1890s had to face the strengthening of the labour mechanism of action. That’s the case of the trade unions that began to reach high levels of working class participation, much more than before, founding also new forms of labour association –like national federation of labour. Although the general participation within the trade union movement was limited in general terms –the support of unskilled labourers in the beginning was decreased in the following economic depression-. Also, their victories were conditioned by the fact of absence of enough connections between the working-class association and the political Left parties. So, the industrial trade unions were less effective than others labour unions, like the non-manual industrial workers, with better working situations and with demands far from the petitions of the rest . It would be necessary to point the archaism of trade unions in some countries like in Italy, where before 1900 were most common the mutual aid societies .

Sometimes the class struggle was channelled by paths far from or against the law. That is the case of the terrorism, an affair that it would have to be analyse like an addition of regional actuations more than a general question in the labourer world. Although it is truth that in the 1890s it was produced a diminish of the violent action in most of the countries with previous activity. Both either Spain or Italy had similar social and economic situation that made possible that the Anarchist movement took roots, with a violent doctrine of action. The continues failures in their attempts, as well as had happened in Russia -with an strong terrorist tradition- , carried to repressions campaigns from the government, that in Italy lead to the end of the terrorism towards the political method. But the sudden actions did not disappear so quickly. In Spain during the last decade of the century the terrorism and violence could be check in Catalonia or in the south, important Anarchist bastions .

So, how can we evaluate the the Socialism in front of the politics regimes in the late nineteenth century? The international ideas of the working class threaten the politic regimes in three aspects. Firstly, it produced a breakage in the relations of subordination of the collective towards the idea of nation. Secondly, the end of the economic and social relations of the states with the territories under colonization, and so, a damage of the own develop of the states –some of them in the road towards the imperialism-. Thirdly, and connect with the previous one, the internal and external destabilization of the state by the fact of the rejection towards the army and the offensive wars between nations.

In other hand, the politics regimes in some way were beneficiated by the Socialism, by the fact that in the Second International was eliminated the Anarchism from the ideological and doctrinal international labour framework. It meant a des-radicalization of the class struggle, being channelled through parliamentary-politic streams. This would coincide with the diminishing of the labour terrorism towards marginal positions. The violent actions in order to ensure the working class demands were being relegated to second positions.

Finally, an increasing –but limited- working-class participation –quantitative and qualitative- in the labour parties and the trade unions. This directed the discontent and the demands trough more secure and strong ways of pressure. In conclusion, in the late nineteenth century the Socialism was in a development of being an important conditional factor inside the governments by higher legal methods. The ideology of the international solidarity between workers was a real menace in a moment of configuration and consolidation of the idea of the nation and empire. But only the time would show the possibility of a unity of all the workers of the world.


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