With the passing of time, what was regarded in the last quarter of the twentieth century as a troubling problem of limited economic growth will appear as a period of turbulence and social dislocation caused by the transition away from the two-century-old cycle of the Industrial Revolution. This cycle opened with the slow erosion of the agricultural population and culminated in a similar erosion of the industrial working class, because, by the 1970s, in the early industrialized countries, pure manufacturing activities were no longer able to increase employment. A distinct historical period seems to be coming to an end, even if it will take some time before its full effects will be visible everywhere. Even then, however, this is likely to take much less time than it once took for industrialization to spread from the early to the late arrivals in the Western world.
In its various ideological streams, its political organizations, and its social and political battles, the history of socialism is linked closely to this two-century cycle. Indeed, its story, many would argue, now comes to an end with the closing of this period. The passing away of working-class politics, and of class politics as such, leaves open the question of how many of its aims have actually been achieved. This study takes a historical view of socialism and aims to reconstruct the steps through which a social conflict was translated and structured into a political opposition, how it developed its different organizational and ideological forms, and how it managed more or less successfully to mobilize politically its putative reference groups.