The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism
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The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism

Mohamed Ismail Sabry

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eBook - ePub

The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism

Mohamed Ismail Sabry

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This book examines how socioeconomic and institutional factors shaped the development of Socialism and its two contending variants of Social Democracy and Communism, investigating why each of these factions enjoyed varying levels of popularity in different societies between 1840 and 1945. It places a special focus on a number of factors including: inequality; industrialization; urbanization; political freedoms; literacy and education; national sentiments; ethnic fractionalization and other cultural factors.
This important study offers a detailed and thorough analysis combining theory, empirical data and a number of important case studies reflecting the different dimensions of Socialism. It offers perspectives on the strength or lack thereof of Social Democracy and Communism during this period across a number of countries, including, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Britain, France, the United States, China, Mexico and many more.
The work's multi-faceted approach provides a rich and thorough analysis of Socialism during this period with new and valuable insights stemming from its unique combination of historic analysis, political theory and institutional economics.

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Great theories and ideas are products of the historical conditions in which they were born. They were developed to address existing major concerns, entangling with these concerns while trying to understand their roots, analyze their dynamics, and find appropriate remedies and answers. Consequently, ideas and theories should be understood with reference to their historical and socioeconomic context. History has shown that the birth of ideas, whether radical or moderate, and the popularity they entertain were the materialization of societal responses for existing conditions. Harsh conditions and extreme injustices often enraged minds and produced radical ideological responses. Great social inequality, wide nationalist oppression, excessive racial, and religious or sexual discrimination fostered such responses and their widespread popular support among the disadvantaged. The popularity of more moderate ideological responses increases, conversely, at less harsher times. Analyzing Marxism should be conducted through understanding its historical settings. Certainly, this ideology was the resultant of the socioeconomic conditions of 19th-century Western Europe, while its variants were shaped by other socioeconomic conditions in different temporal, geographical, and socioeconomic settings (Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1. The Map of Europe before 1914. Source: Adapted from one which is available at Accessed on 10 May 2017.
In the 19th century, Western Europe was experiencing a great social upheaval that had its seeds in the French Great Revolution of 1789 and the Industrial Revolution that started in Britain in the 18th century. It was the time witnessing the rise of the bourgeoisie; this social class that was historically composed of merchants, artisans, etc. Through its long history, the rise in the status of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe passed through three stages.1 The first of these stages was in the Middle Ages at the time when the growing cities witnessed the emergence of artisans. The great European naval explorations of the late 15th century fostered a naval trading boom that set the next stage. The Europeans discovered the “New World” and the Cape of Good Hope Route passing around Africa and into Asia, facilitating the establishment of offshore colonies and consequently huge markets for European commodities. By the beginning of the 19th century, Europe and European powers were controlling around 35% of the lands of the world.2 The third stage was the one which started with the Industrial Revolution. Over this long time, these sociopolitical and economic developments had strengthened the power of the bourgeoisie till it emerged as a dominant class in the new era that followed the Industrial Revolution starting in Britain in the 18th century and spreading to Western Europe mainly in the 19th century.
Across the channel in neighboring and rival France, heavy fiscal burdens of the Kingdom’s empire eroded its power and that of its elites. A great unexpected upheaval starting in July 1789 swept the country in unprecedented revolutionary tide which witnessed the execution of Louis XVI and culminated with the rise of the radical faction of the Jacobins into power in 1793. The Jacobian Reign of Terror claimed plenty of lives of the nobility and the church. The revolutionary tide settled down afterwards. Then few years later, the ambitious army officer Napoleon Bonaparte assumed power transforming eventually to an Emperor who fought in much of Europe. Surprisingly, he raised the banners of the revolution and spread its values in lands conquered by his army. These developments made the French Revolution transcend France, causing a major shock for Europe and beyond. The revolution of 1789 put an end to feudalism, liquidated the privileges of the nobility, decimated the power of the church which brought secularization to the state, emancipated religious minorities which offered egalitarianism in terms of rights and citizenship for everyone, and introduced and protected private property rights and brought the Napoleonic Code, a modern comprehensive legal system.3 The Napoleonic Wars engaging revolutionary France against many belligerent European states brought its great sociopolitical transformations to Western and Central Europe and inspired reform and revolutionary agendas for years to follow. The road was wide open for the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie, now freed from the supremacy of the aristocracy and the power of the church, its property rights being secured and the emancipation of the minorities providing many of their rich bourgeoisie higher shares of social and political power.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars fostered other major transformations that would shape the political arena in the 19th century and beyond. The expansion of state power was one of these major changes. Another crucial effect was the rise of nationalism and most importantly the political mobilization of the masses, a transformation that made the rise of Socialism later in the 19th century possible. The “massive state growth,” according to Mann (1993, pp. 214–240), was fostered by the increasing militarization of the European societies. In 1760, state expenditure represented only 10% of income in peacetime and 20% in wartime (in Prussia it was significantly higher than this level); and before that year it was even way less at levels of 3% and 5%, respectively. Yet, during the Napoleonic Wars, the level further multiplied to between 30% and 40%. This substantial increase was directed mainly to the military, which dramatically increased its manpower to 5% of the population. If this strengthened state power, it also resulted, as Mann argued, in bringing to the forefront both the representation and the national questions. The increase in the fiscal and manpower needs of the state induced the political mobilization and organization of the petite bourgeoisie. The formerly more apolitical masses were now brought to the political arena as their share in financial and life sacrifices increased. Taxes and conscriptions magnified social tension and brought it to the “national political level” as all the subjects of the state were confronted by the same issues. The “fiscal-military crisis” induced calls for “political citizenship,” mobilization of the masses, and “class struggle over representation.” War starting in the early 19th century, by mobilizing a big percentage of the population as conscripts, played a role in feeding “popular aggressive nationalism.”
These would be major forces in shaping the outcomes of the political struggle as Marxist Socialism was emerging. The same factors that made it possible for Socialism to flourish were creating two great strains on its proliferation, a powerful antagonistic capitalist-controlled state, and an inspirational rival represented in nationalism, which would fight with Socialism on the sentiments of the masses. The ever expanding power of the state, on the other hand, inspired Socialist movements to shape their dreams accordingly, even if in their perception their dream to control the state was to be a temporary measure.
Such sociopolitical developments were matched by the major socioeconomic and technological upheaval springing from the western side of the channel. Emerging from Britain with its tremendous control of world seas, colonies, and trade, the Industrial Revolution was a great historical transformation. The imperial leader of the time, which enforced its supremacy after long overseas wars with the French Kingdom, had already advanced proto-industries, where processed raw materials obtained from its wealthy colonies were major export items. Great inventions that brought steam engine among other major breakthroughs set the scene for the big transformation of the last quarter of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution. Textiles and the iron industries boomed and the mining of coal, which provided the needed energy, became a major activity.
Analogues to these developments, Western Europe witnessed another boom in the financial sector with the growth of modern banking. Not only were these institutions capable of intermediating and channeling funds effectively among individuals and institutions, but the establishment of investment banks also substantially helped in directing the needed resources to the growing industrial sector. Investment banks fostered the growth of shareholder corporate gigantic companies, which were operated by a professional management. These banks themselves were among the owners of these developing huge corporate organizations.
Starting from 1825, a new transportation and communication boom was witnessed in Europe, which was fostered by the introduction of the railways. This great invention sharply cut the costs of transportation, linked locked areas to seas, rural areas with its agriculture products to industrial urban centers, integrated national markets, and bound European markets together. Industrialization fostered railways construction by providing its needed iron, but railways also induced industrialization through its demand on iron and coal and stimulated the engineering, mining, and construction sectors.4 Industrialization and railways together tremendously transformed Western Europe economically and socially. The fall in freight costs further integrated the European economies. The 19th century also witnessed a communication boom fostered by the Telegraph, which largely developed in that century, and later by the new invention of the telephone introduced in the last quarter of the century.
These major transformations were impacting profoundly on European populations. Western Europe was enjoying a high rate of literacy and numeracy (learning mathematics) in the 19th century. Toward the turn of the century, the numeracy percentage was 80–90% and literacy among the upper and middle classes was between 75% and 85%, but much lesser (about the half) among the working classes. Mass education was a feature of the 19th century; and by the end of that century illiteracy was almost eradicated.5 Major inventions of the century that tremendously reduced the cost of printing led to multiplying the number of published books, while journals and magazines mushroomed in Western Europe.
The transformation, however, did not always land neatly on the European populations. Starting in Britain and spreading afterward in countries following suit, industrialization led to great demographic changes, with peasants migrating to urban centers and cities supplying labor for the expanding industrial sector. With time, the population of the industrialized countries was transforming into being predominantly urban. Industry provided work opportunities to the former peasants searching for better living conditions away from their relatively stagnant lands. But these newly urbanized poor were now living under very tough conditions. Few years before writing the Manifesto with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels conducted a comprehensive study on the lives of the English proletariat of the time in his famous work Conditions of the Working Class in England. Speaking passionately about the proletariat’s poor conditions, he wrote:
They (the poor) are drawn into the large cities where they breathe a poorer atmosphere than in the country; they are relegated to districts which, by reason of the method of construction, are worse ventilated than any others; they are deprived of all means of cleanliness, of water itself, since pipes are laid only when paid for, and the rivers so polluted that they are useless for such purposes; they are obliged to throw all offal and garbage, all dirty water, often all disgusting drainage and excrement into the streets, being without other means of disposing of them; they are thus compelled to infect the region of their own dwellings … They are penned in dozens into single rooms, so that the air which they breathe at night is enough in itself to stifle them. They are given damp dwellings, cellar dens that are not waterproof from below or garrets that leak from above. Their houses are so built that the clammy air cannot escape. They are supplied bad, tattered, or rotten clothing, adulterated and indigestible food … They are deprived of all enjoyments except that of sexual indulgence and drunkenness, are worked every day to the point of complete exhaustion of their mental and physical energies, and are thus constantly spurred on to the maddest excess in the only two enjoyments at their command.6
It was common to find 10 or more persons sharing a room, many living in cellars, tens of families sharing a public primitive toilet and drinking from the river into which sewage was directly flowing. Unsurprisingly, diseases harvested in great number of people.7
At the other end of the spectrum, industrialization fostered the emergence of a wealthy capitalist bourgeois class based on the profits originating from industry and the newly constructed industrial firms. The now economically strengthened bourgeoisie was capable of engineering a great political upheaval. It became powerful enough to challenge and to displace from the top of the societal pyramid the declining aristocracy which had been dominating Western Europe since the Middle Ages and the age of feudalism basing their class might on landownership. The new bourgeoisie age opened the way for the establishment of republics and constitutionalist monarchies, ending the age of absolute monarchy which had aristocrats and the clergy as its two other triangular power dimensions. The socioeconomic transformation was not always sharp as could be inferred, and in some countries such as Germany, many of the new wealthy figures of the bourgeoisie had aristocratic roots.8 In any case, the new social order in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution was now based on the existence of three main social classes which were: the rich and dominant capitalist bourgeoisie class controlling almost everything thanks to its capital; the petite bourgeoisie composed of small merchants, artisans, and state functionaries; and, at the bottom of the class pyramid, the proletariat or the working class which was arguably under direct economic control of the wealthy bourgeoisie.
The poor and intolerable living conditions of 19th century Western Europe were not the proletariat’s only misery. With the factory of the bourgeoisie, who is exploiting their dearest efforts, being the only possible working place in the urban centers, the proletariat had no option but to accept this exploitation and seemingly new slavery. The Industrial Revolution has negatively affected the incomes of the artisans who used to be among the well-to-do segments of society in previous times. The abundance and low price of the industrial product as compared to the artisans’ production were encouraging consumers to move away from the latter and toward more of industrial production consumption. Thus, the worker had no alternative to working at the bourgeois’ factory, while artisans were struggling hardly against the tide threatened by the specter of slipping into the proletariat class. The pressing need for subsistence opened the way for over-exploitation having workers as its victims. Forced to work for very long hours beyond human capabilities, they were compensated with the least possible wages. In many cases, factory owners used child labor to cut expenses. Further violations were witnessed where children were forced to work for long hours that could approach sometimes a whole day of work to be compensated at the end by subsistence wages.9 This was matched with a further negative psychological effect, where working at the factory was nothing but a trade between a worker’s maximum effort and the least possible wage given to him, and where the worker’s role in the production process was significantly marginalized. Each of the workers was assigned a small repeated uncreative task in the production line, denying him from the satisfaction of associating his dear efforts with the final product, contrary to the case of an artisan.
At that time, workers’ movements and syndicates were undeveloped and incapable of defending the rights of workers. This forced Western European governments to introduce legislations protecting workers from exploitation, and setting maximum working hours or minimum wage schemes. The choice presented to the proletariat at that time was rather between new indirect market-oriented slavery and starving to death. It is to be anticipated that ideas searching for fighting this extreme social injustice would propagate as fast as it would evolve together with Platonic Utopian dreams about the end of the rule and exploitation of man to his fellow men and achieving ultimate equality among humans. Yet, those who raised the banner of such ideas were never united under a clear perspective, a common flag, or a concrete ideology. As time approached mid-19th century, this seemed to be undergoing a major shift.


In such a world, Karl Marx was born in Prussia in 1818 to a bourgeois Jewish family which converted later to Christianity. As a journalist with Socialist tendencies, the young Marx soon placed himself in a confrontation with the state because of his revolutionary articles against the Prussian monarchy. In 1843 the Rheinische Zeitung, the Journal he was editing, was banned. As he was approaching the age of 30, political conditions in Western Europe were moving to a major upheaval.
This was the time when the labor movement in Britain developed into a political movement addressing the social and economic sufferings of the proletariat. The prevailing tough conditions expectantly induced the movement to lean toward the left. The movement was stronger than in other Western European countries; in any case, Britain was the industrial pioneer and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution from which it spread to other Western European countries. Labor movements were also powerful in France and Prussia, and needless to say, in France, Socialist id...

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Citation styles for The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism
APA 6 Citation
Sabry, M. I. (2017). The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism ([edition unavailable]). Emerald Publishing Limited. Retrieved from (Original work published 2017)
Chicago Citation
Sabry, Mohamed Ismail. (2017) 2017. The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism. [Edition unavailable]. Emerald Publishing Limited.
Harvard Citation
Sabry, M. I. (2017) The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism. [edition unavailable]. Emerald Publishing Limited. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Sabry, Mohamed Ismail. The Development of Socialism, Social Democracy and Communism. [edition unavailable]. Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.