Among modern political movements, socialism has arguably given the greatest attention to the elaboration of a coherent political theory. By the late nineteenth century many socialists had come to believe that Marxism gave them alone a “scientific” understanding of the economic and social laws of history. This belief became codified as “Marxism-Leninism” in the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Opponents have teased socialists for their faith in theory and have compared the socialist movement to an orthodox church replete with dogma and an infallible priesthood.
Dogmatic or sophisticated, reformist or communist, socialists developed their theories in the heat of an unfolding series of political conflicts. This course investigates the evolution of socialism as a political philosophy and ideology within this shifting political context. It begins with the pre-Marxian utopian socialism promoted by Babeuf, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen and the anarchism of Proudhon and Bakunin. The course then turns to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and follows the subsequent division of socialist thinking into evolutionary and revolutionary systems in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will look at the debates within socialism about the relationship between anarchism and social democracy, and over the need to reinterpret Marx in the imperialist age. Significant attention will be paid to the new divisions in the wake of the Bolshevik success in Russia. Finally, students will want to examine the fate of socialism after the recent watersheds of 1968 and 1989. What, if any, is the impact of socialist theory in Europe today?
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