Marx and Engels, Section 3: Socialist and Communist Literature

Topics: EconomicsCapitalism


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Last updated: May 4, 2019

What is Marx’s definition of “Socialism”?
Any concern with the social problems produced by capitalism

What are the three main branches of socialist/communist literature?
1) Reactionary socialism2) Conservative or bourgeois socialism3) Critical/Utopian socialism and communism

What is the definition of “Reactionary Socialism”?
Any school of thought that wants to solve problems caused by capitalism by returning to an earlier form of society. The overarching issue with this is that you can’t move backwards in history, or undo the changes that have led to the current state of capitalism.

What are the three sub-branches of Reactionary socialism?
A) Feudal socialismB) Petty-bourgeois socialismC) German or “true” socialism

Describe Reactionary Socialism #1: Feudal Socialism.
Made of aristocractsThey don’t mind the bourgeois; the only problem they have with capitalism is that it produces the proletariatPublicly, they criticize the bourgeois, but this is only to avoid a revolution; but they keep it public to try to recruit the proletariatPrivately, they exploit the system as much as possible to get profit

Describe Reactionary Socialism #2: Petty-bourgeois Socialism.
Petty-bourgeois are between workers and capitalistsThis theory mainly came from FranceSupports workers from the viewpoint of the peasant and petty-bourgeoisAgrees with Marx’s views of the negative aspects of capitalism (division of labor, inequality, overproduction and crises, etc.)

Describe Reactionary Socialism #3: German or “True Socialism”.
Actually an offshoot of petty-bourgeois socialismGermany developed after France, so when they got wind of PB socialism, they interpreted it as a philosophical ideal rather than a plan of action, because they didn’t have a context of severe classesThey thought this humanistic ideal could be put into use by all humans; when in reality, it can’t be taken out of a class context, because all humans are divided into classesWith their theoretical criticisms of the bourgeoisie but no call to action, these true socialists were actually helping out the feudalistsSince true socialism lacked a class perspective, it criticized both the proletarit and the bourgeoisie for fighting for themselves rather than for humanity; this ended up advancing middle-class interestsEventually, Germans viewed their socialism as more and more true, viewing Germans as the ideal society, and class struggle as violent.

Their socialist/communist literature became only in support of this idea

What is B) Conservative-Bourgeois Socialism?
Social workers, charity workers, philanthropists- any “reformers”- “the bourgeois is a bourgeois- for the benefit of the working class”Capitalists today also claim to benefit workersProblematic because the proletariat is viewed as victims who need rescuing, rather than a group that will liberate themselvesThey don’t want to end capitalism; they just want the bad parts to go away, and for the proletariat to be happy enough that they don’t hold a revolutionWhen workers are angry, try to placate them with small band-aid reforms

What does Marx mean by “Utopian”?
Speculations about a post-capitalist society not based on an analysis of the social forces capable of bringing change

What is C) Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism?
The first attempt by the proletariat to achieve their own aimsStill too early- didn’t have the means or the motivation to form unions as a class brought about by severe capitalismFirst group to really want a new systemMarx appreciated their thorough criticisms of capitalism, but they thought it’d be easier to break down classes because classes hadn’t developed much yetBecause it was too early for capitalism itself, they needed to pick a plan and force it to happenWanted to create social utopias, where workers would escape wage labor, rather than organizing as a classThought their ideas would appeal to everyone once everyone, so looked to the general public for support; reject revolutions, because they think they can achieve their ends through non-violenceEventually became hostile to organized workers

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