Socialist parties

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Socialist parties

in European history, political organizations formed in European countries to achieve the goals of socialismsocialism,
general term for the political and economic theory that advocates a system of collective or government ownership and management of the means of production and distribution of goods.
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General History

In the late 19th cent. the gradual enfranchisement of the working classes gave impetus to socialism and the formation of Socialist political parties in many countries. Most were directly influenced by the teachings of Karl MarxMarx, Karl,
1818–83, German social philosopher, the chief theorist of modern socialism and communism. Early Life

Marx's father, a lawyer, converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in 1824.
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. At the same time labor unions (see union, laborunion, labor,
association of workers for the purpose of improving their economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. Historically there have been two chief types of unions: the horizontal, or craft, union, in which all the members are
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) were formed to improve the worker's economic status. In the 1870s and 80s, Socialist parties appeared in most European states; in 1889 they joined to form the Second InternationalInternational,
any of a succession of international socialist and Communist organizations of the 19th and 20th cent. The First International

The First International was founded in London in 1864 as the International Workingmen's Association.
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Despite similarities, the varying economic, social, and political conditions within countries gave distinctive national characters to the different socialist organizations. In France the political defeats experienced by socialists and other worker groups of the February Revolution (1848) and the Commune of Paris (1871) encouraged syndicalismsyndicalism
, political and economic doctrine that advocates control of the means and processes of production by organized bodies of workers. Like anarchists, syndicalists believe that any form of state is an instrument of oppression and that the state should be abolished.
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 and the revolutionary doctrine of Louis Auguste BlanquiBlanqui, Louis Auguste
, 1805–81, French revolutionary and radical thinker. While a student in Paris, he joined (1824) a branch of the Carbonari, a revolutionary secret society; thenceforth he was prominent in every revolutionary upheaval in France until his death.
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. In Germany the state socialism of Ferdinand LassalleLassalle, Ferdinand
, 1825–64, German socialist. The son of a Jewish merchant, he studied at the universities of Breslau and Berlin, where he became a philosophical Hegelian. He gained wide recognition as an attorney in a lengthy and notorious divorce suit (1846–54).
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 gained wide acceptance. (For more detailed historical sketches of the Socialist parties in France and Germany, see below.) In Russia agrarian socialist ideas evolved indigenously (as did anarchismanarchism
[Gr.,=having no government], theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals.
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), finding expression in the Populist movement (see narodnikinarodniki
, Russian populists, adherents of an agrarian socialist movement active from the 1860s to the end of the 19th cent. Influenced by the writings of Aleksandr Herzen, the narodniki
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) and in the works of Aleksandr HerzenHerzen, Aleksandr Ivanovich
, 1812–70, Russian revolutionary leader and writer. A member of the aristocracy, he was appalled at the brutality of his class, the lack of freedom at all levels of Russian society, and the terrible poverty of the serfs.
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, Mikhail BakuninBakunin, Mikhail
, 1814–76, Russian revolutionary and leading exponent of anarchism. He came from an aristocratic family but entered upon revolutionary activities as a young man.
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, and others. Georgi PlekhanovPlekhanov, Georgi Valentinovich
, 1857–1918, Russian revolutionary and social philosopher. He was a leader in introducing Marxist theory to Russia and is often called the "Father of Russian Marxism.
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 introduced Marxism to Russia. (For the subsequent history of political socialism in Russia, see Socialist Revolutionary partySocialist Revolutionary party,
in Russian history, an agrarian party founded by various Populist groups in 1901. Its program, adopted in 1906, called for the overthrow of the autocracy, the establishment of a classless society, self-determination for national minorities, and
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; Bolshevism and MenshevismBolshevism and Menshevism
, the two main branches of Russian socialism from 1903 until the consolidation of the Bolshevik dictatorship under Lenin in the civil war of 1918–20.
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; communismcommunism,
fundamentally, a system of social organization in which property (especially real property and the means of production) is held in common. Thus, the ejido system of the indigenous people of Mexico and the property-and-work system of the Inca were both communist,
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.) Socialism in Great Britain developed in close association with the trade union movement and obtained its ideological direction from the evolutionary socialists of the Fabian SocietyFabian Society,
British socialist society. An outgrowth of the Fellowship of the New Life (founded 1883 under the influence of Thomas Davidson), the society was developed the following year by Frank Podmore and Edward Pease.
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 rather than from Marxism (see Labour partyLabour party,
British political party, one of the two dominant parties in Great Britain since World War I. Origins

The Labour party was founded in 1900 after several generations of preparatory trade union politics made possible by the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1884,
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). The Socialist parties in the Scandinavian countries were also generally moderate, and in the 20th cent. they soon gained a prominent political role.

All European Socialist parties were marked by schisms; the main issue dividing them was whether party members should cooperate with bourgeois-dominated governments to work for gradual reforms or should organize extralegally to hasten what Marxists viewed as inevitable, proletarian revolution. Eduard BernsteinBernstein, Eduard
, 1850–1932, German socialist. From 1872 he was actively associated with the Social Democratic party. In 1878, antisocialist legislation sent him into exile.
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, in Germany, was one of the first to deny (1898) some of Marx's doctrines and to argue for "revisionism."

World War I brought the collapse of Socialist internationalism, since many socialists supported their national governments in the war, some accepting ministerial positions. Of those opposing the war, the most notable were the Russian Bolsheviks, who in 1917 won control of their country in the Russian RevolutionRussian Revolution,
violent upheaval in Russia in 1917 that overthrew the czarist government. Causes

The revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest.
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. After the war left-wing socialists, hoping for an extension of the Russian Revolution to other European countries, split off from the more moderate majority to form Communist parties. Thus a Third (Communist) International was formed to rival the Second International.

In the interwar years most of the Socialist parties discarded their revolutionary ideology. Many participated in coalition governments with bourgeois parties, and in Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark they formed their own governments. However, since they formed either coalition or minority governments they were prevented from achieving structural socialist changes, although some social reforms were enacted. Socialists were not able to counter the rise of fascismfascism
, totalitarian philosophy of government that glorifies the state and nation and assigns to the state control over every aspect of national life. The name was first used by the party started by Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 until the Italian defeat in World
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, and in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal they were suppressed.

During World War II, socialists were prominent in the resistance movement in the countries occupied by Germany. In the postwar period the cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
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 widened the gulf between the Socialist and Communist parties, and most Socialist parties moved even further away from Marxism. Substantial periods of power, however, enabled some to promote their goals of a planned economy and a welfare state in many European countries; their position has been especially strong in the Scandinavian countries. The end, in the 1970s, of decades of rule by Salazar and Caetano in Portugal and Franco in Spain allowed for the reestablishment of Socialist parties in the Iberian peninsula. Since the 1990s a number of Socialist parties have moderated their commit to a planned economy and the welfare state, most especially the British Labour party, which went so far as to abandon formally its traditional Socialist positions.


See M. Beer, General History of Socialism and Social Struggles (1957); C. Landauer, European Socialism (1959); G. D. H. Cole, The Second International, 1889–1914 (1956), Communism and Social Democracy, 1914–1931 (1958), and Socialism and Fascism, 1931–1939 (1960); S. Kramer, Socialism in Western Europe (1984); A. S. Lindemann, A History of European Socialism (1984); J. Tomaszewski, The Socialist Regimes of Eastern Europe (1989).

In Germany

In 1875, at Gotha, the followers of Lassalle united with the Marxist group of Wilhelm LiebknechtLiebknecht, Wilhelm
, 1826–1900, German socialist leader and journalist. His participation in the revolution in Germany in 1848–49 forced him into exile, and he lived in England until 1862. While there he became associated with Karl Marx.
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 and August BebelBebel, August
, 1840–1913, German Socialist leader. A wood turner by trade, he became a Marxian Socialist under the influence of Wilhelm Liebknecht. At a congress at Eisenach (1869) he was instrumental in founding the German Social Democratic party, which he later
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 to form the Socialist Labor party, later known as the Social Democratic party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or SPD). Despite repressive laws the SPD grew rapidly and by 1912 was the largest single party in the Reichstag.

In 1891 the Erfurt Program, adopted at a party congress in Erfurt, repudiated Lassalle's theories and placed the party on a strictly Marxist theoretical basis. Ideological debate shook the party throughout the 1890s. Bernstein led the revisionists in urging the SPD to weaken its commitment to Marxist theories of inevitable revolution and class struggle and to form alliances with middle-class parties. Karl KautskyKautsky, Karl Johann
, 1854–1938, German-Austrian socialist, b. Prague. A leading figure in the effort to spread Marxist doctrine in Germany, he was the principal deviser of the Erfurt Program, which set the German Social Democratic party on an orthodox Marxist path and
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 was the leading supporter of Marxist orthodoxy, and his position was formally upheld by the party, but in practice revisionism prevailed.

When World War I broke out (1914), the Social Democrats in the Reichstag voted for war credits, and in 1916 SPD deputies entered the government. Late in 1915 a group opposed to the continuation of the war broke off from the Majority Socialists and took (1917) the name Independent Socialists. They were led by Hugo HaaseHaase, Hugo
, 1863–1919, German Socialist leader. A Social Democratic member of the Reichstag, he opposed World War I, but initially followed his party's position in supporting the war. In Dec.
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. Another, more radical group also broke away; the Spartacus partySpartacus party
or Spartacists,
radical group of German Socialists, formed c.Mar., 1916, and led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The name was derived from the pseudonym Spartacus used by Liebknecht in his pamphlets denouncing World War I, the government, and the
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 led by Karl LiebknechtLiebknecht, Karl
, 1871–1919, German socialist, leader of the Spartacus party; son of Wilhelm Liebknecht. His antimilitaristic writings caused his conviction (1907) for high treason.
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 and Rosa LuxemburgLuxemburg, Rosa
, 1871–1919, German revolutionary, b. Russian Poland. Her revolutionary activities forced her to flee to Switzerland in 1889, where she became a Marxist.
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. With the German revolution of Nov., 1918, an SPD government under Friedrich EbertEbert, Friedrich
, 1871–1925, first president (1919–25) of the German republic. A Social Democratic deputy in the Reichstag, in 1913 he became party leader, succeeding Bebel; a gradualist, or moderate, he was seen as pragmatic and non-ideological.
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 and Haase took control, but its failure to promote socialist policies led to Haase's withdrawal and the brutally suppressed Spartacist revolt of Jan., 1919. Under the Weimar Republic the Social Democrats joined coalitions with other parties and succeeded in improving the condition of the working classes but were unable to counter extremist resurgence, and with the rise of Adolf Hitler the SPD was destroyed.

After World War II the revived SPD in East Germany was forced to merge (1946) with the Communists in the Socialist Unity party. In West Germany, the SPD emerged as the leading opposition party. In 1966 it entered a "grand coalition" with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and in 1969 the SPD, led by Chancellor Willy BrandtBrandt, Willy
, 1913–92, German political leader. His name originally was Karl Herbert Frahm. Active in his youth in the Social Democratic party, after Adolf Hitler came to power (1933) he fled to Norway and began a journalistic career, soon becoming a Norwegian citizen.
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, became the dominant party in a governing coalition with the small Free Democratic party. Brandt pursued a policy of normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including East Germany. In 1974, Brandt resigned as the result of a spy scandal and was succeeded by Helmut SchmidtSchmidt, Helmut
, 1918–2015, German political leader, chancellor of West Germany (1974–82). After serving in World War II, he entered politics and joined the Social Democratic party. He was elected to the Bundestag in 1953.
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. The SPD maintained a majority coalition, winning reelection in 1976 and 1980, but went into opposition when the Free Democrats switched to the CDU in 1982.

The SPD was a member of the East German transitional government in 1990, but lost again in the first all-German elections that year. The SPD was in opposition until 1998, when Gerhard SchröderSchröder, Gerhard
, 1944–, chancellor of Germany (1998–2005), b. Mosenburg, Germany. A telegenic lawyer and Social Democrat, he entered politics as a Marxist student in the 1960s and was elected to the Bundestag in 1980.
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 led the party to a victory over the CDU coalition. Schröder's movement of the party toward the center led, in 2005, to formation of the more traditionally socialist Left party, an alliance of dissident SPD members (including former party leader Oskar LafontaineLafontaine, Oskar,
1943–, German politician. He rose through the Social Democrat Party (SPD) and electoral ranks in the Saar, becoming SPD regional chairman in 1977 and premier of the Saar in 1985.
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) and former Communists. The SPD narrowly lost the 2005 elections to the CDU and entered into coalition with them as a junior partner (2005–9). The SPD suffered significant losses in the 2009 elections, but after the 2013 elections the SPD was again the junior partner in a CDU-led government. The SPD again suffered losses in 2017 and initially went into opposition, but it ultimately became the junior partner in a CDU-led government.


See studies by C. E. Schorske (1955, repr. 1970), D. W. Morgan (1975), G. Braunthal (1978 and 1983), and V. L. Lidtke (1985).

In France

The French Socialist party, known as the SFIO from its official name Section française de l'internationale ouvrière [French section of the Worker's International], was formed in 1905 by a merger of various socialist groups that had long quarreled over tactics. Led by Jean JaurèsJaurès, Jean
, 1859–1914, French Socialist leader and historian. A brilliant student and teacher, he entered the chamber of deputies in 1885 and subsequently became a Socialist.
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 and Jules GuesdeGuesde, Jules
, 1845–1922, French socialist, whose original name was Basile. Exiled for his support of the Paris commune, he became a confirmed Marxist after 1876 and, with Paul Lafargue, led in advocating socialism in France and a policy of noncompromise with the existing
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, the SFIO became a major political force. In 1914 the party supported French participation in World War I, accepting ministerial posts.

The duration of the war and the example of the Russian Revolution stimulated the growth of a pro-Bolshevik element in the SFIO. By 1920 the Communists held a majority in the party, and a split was unavoidable. The minority, led by Léon BlumBlum, Léon
, 1872–1950, French Socialist leader and writer. Well established in literary circles, he entered politics during the Dreyfus Affair and rose to party leadership.
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, reconstituted the SFIO and in 1924 it joined a coalition government. In 1936, faced by economic depression, government corruption, and the rise of French fascism, the Socialists, allied with Communists and Radical Socialists, won election as the Popular Front; Blum was premier (1937–38).

In World War II the SFIO played a heroic role in the French Resistance, emerging in 1945 as one of the strongest government parties. But, flanked by Communists on the left and conservative parties on the right, it gradually lost strength, although it frequently was the leading party in governing coalitions. Split over support for the Fifth Republic in 1958, the party made a succession of alliances, unsuccessfully opposing the ruling Gaullists. It was reorganized in 1969 as the Parti Socialiste.

Socialist candidate François MitterrandMitterrand, François Maurice
, 1916–96, French political leader, president of France, 1981–95. Initially a supporter of Pétain's Vichy government during World War II, he joined the Resistance in 1943.
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, was only narrowly defeated for the presidency in 1974, and in 1981, again with Communist support, he defeated Gaullist President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, then led his party to an assembly majority. The Socialists governed, with Pierre MauroyMauroy, Pierre
, 1928–2013, French politician. Educated at the École National d'Apprentissage de Cachan, he was a teacher and an active member of the new Socialist party from the 1960s. During the 1970s, he was second only to François Mitterrand in the party.
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 and then Laurent FabiusFabius, Laurent
, 1946– French politician. After graduating from the École National d'Administration, he became an auditor at the Council of State and has been a Socialist National Assembly deputy since 1978.
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 as premier, until 1986, increasing social benefits, nationalizing industrial and financial enterprises (later reprivatized by the successor government), and promoting devolution to local governments. However, its austerity policies cost it an assembly majority; a center-right coalition "cohabited" with President Mitterrand until 1988, when Mitterrand was reelected, and the party regained a majority. Michel RocardRocard, Michel Louis Léon,
1930–2016, French political leader. After studying at the École Nationale d'Administration and the Institut d'Études Politiques, he joined the civil service.
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 became premier and established a minimum guaranteed income, but deficit-driven public-sector wage cuts cost him support. He was replaced by Edith CressonCresson, Edith
, 1934–, French politician, b. Edith Campion. After studying at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, she became a consultant in private industry.
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 in 1991, and she by Pierre BérégovoyBérégovoy, Pierre
, 1925–93, French politician. A leader of the Socialist party after 1969, he was an adviser (1981–82) to François Mitterrand, under whose government he held several ministries, including that of economy and finance as well as
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 in 1992.

By the end of 1992, the party was divided in the face of a united conservative opposition, which triumphed in the assembly elections of 1993. The Socialists also lost the presidency in 1995, but they returned to power in the assembly in 1997, and Lionel JospinJospin, Lionel Robert
, 1937–, French politician, premier of France (1997–2002). He studied at the elite École Nationale d'Administration (1961–65) and worked (1965–70) in the foreign ministry.
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 became premier. In 2002 Jospin failed to win the presidency, placing third, and the party subsequently lost control of the assembly. The party's 2007 candidate for the presidency, Ségolène RoyalRoyal, Ségolène
(Marie-Ségolène Royal) , 1953–, French politician, b. Dakar, Senegal. A graduate of the École Nationale d'Administration (1980) who worked as a special assistant (1982–88) to President Mitterrand, she was first
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 also lost. In 2012, however, François HollandeHollande, François Gérard Georges,
1954–, French lawyer and politician, president of France (2012–17), b. Rouen. He attended the elite National School of Administration (ENA) and Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).
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, the Socialist presidential candidate, defeated the incumbent, Nicolas SarkozySarkozy, Nicolas
(Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa) , 1955–, French politician, president of France (2007–12), b. Paris. The son of a minor Hungarian aristocrat who immigrated to France and married the daughter of Greek immigrants, Sarkozy became a
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. They subsequently also won control of the assembly, but reforms enacted under Hollande proved unpopular with the party's traditional supporters. In the 2017 elections the party's presidential candidate placed fifth, and it did poorly in the legislative races.


See H. G. Simmons, French Socialists in Search of a Role (1970); S. Williams, ed., Socialism in France (1983); D. S. Bell and B. Criddle, The French Socialist Party (2d ed. 1988).

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