2 minute read


The Spread Of Marxism During 1880s

Of all the varieties of socialism that existed during this period, Marxism proved to be the most popular doctrine among working-class parties that began to emerge in the 1870s in France, Germany, Belgium, and elsewhere where there was a large industrial proletariat. In countries where industrialization had yet to be firmly established, Marxism was a minority tendency. This was particularly evident in Spain, where anarchism was a major force among both the industrial workers and the peasantry. Anarchism also attracted a sizeable following among peasants and workers in Italy, though it never achieved the mass following it did in Spain. In Russia, Marxism became important only after the turn of the century and even then it did not represent the largest segment of the socialist movement as a whole.

Beginning in the 1880s a special effort was made by Friedrich Engels to popularize Marx's theories, particularly among the growing reading public of workers. As far as Marx's general theories were concerned, this was no easy task, for, apart from intellectuals, few people could easily grasp the meanings of his probing analysis of capitalist development. In order to make such views more accessible, Engels set himself the task of defending Marxian theories against Marx's would-be critics. In Anti-Dühring and several of his better known works, Engels attempted to expand upon the views of his lifelong collaborator by stressing that Marxism was not just a revolutionary theory but a scientific worldview that lay bare the complexities of society. By arguing in this way, Engels hoped not only to discredit rival views of socialism but also to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Marx's theories. From a doctrinal point of view, Engels's most enduring legacy to socialism, however, was his materialist conception of history. More so than Marx, Engels saw the march of socialism as an inexorable historical process that could be predicted with almost mathematical certainty by correctly reading the "objective laws" that governed the evolution of both the natural world and society. He therefore suggested a view of socialist development that linked it to a general process of change that could be measured and read by means of empirical investigations.

The certitude of the causal explanatory model sketched out in Engels' writings on historical materialism appealed especially to the generation of socialists who came of age during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a period when positivism was at its height. Karl Kautsky (1854–1938), Eduard Bernstein (1850–1932), Georgy Plekhanov (1857–1918), and V. I. Lenin (1870–1924) were all indebted to Engels's elaboration of Marxist doctrine. No less a testament to Engels's impact on the future development of socialism is the fact that his materialist conception of history became an article of faith in all the regimes that declared themselves to be Marxist in the twentieth century.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adam Smith Biography to Spectroscopic binarySocialism - Industrial Revolution And The Rise Of Socialism, Utopian Socialists: Owen, Saint-simon, Fourier