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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: July 2011

23 - German socialism and social democracy 1860 –1900

from IV - Secularity, reform and modernity


Origins of socialist political thought

It might have been expected that the political thinking of German social democracy would build upon a variety of European socialists who wrote before 1848. However, that was seldom the case. To be sure, German intellectuals knew something of the ideas of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Cabet, Proudhon, Simonde de Sismondi, Owen, Blanqui and Blanc, but it is difficult to show that those ideas guided the later organisations of the German labour movement. People familiar with the polemical literature in German, notably that produced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, often gained their knowledge of early socialist thought second hand. The intention of Marx and Engels, of course, was not to disseminate the ideas of those they labelled ‘utopian’, but to discredit them. To be sure, in 1888, August Bebel published a very sympathetic account of Fourier's ideas, but he also stressed the weaknesses of the ‘utopian's’ thinking.

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