Marxism after Marx in Europe and America

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

By Vejas Liulevicius, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Although Marx had a global union of workers in mind, the socialist parties that formed in different countries had national interests and motivations. Each of these parties was different from others, representing a new version of Marxism. So then, what actually happened to the Socialist movement after Marx?

An illustration of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago
The Haymarket Riot, May 4, 1886, Chicago. Beginning as a strike rally, an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb that killed eight police and a number of civilians.. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

During the decades after the death of Karl Marx, the socialist movement expanded in many countries. Although there were fears among the Marxists that his ideology might grow faint or diverge from its initial principles, it continued to thrive, although with internal clashes between theory and practice. Also, there were many factions based on the interpretations of the principles in many countries.

Learn more about the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.

Socialism in Austria-Hungary

In Austria-Hungary, under the rule of the Habsburg Empire, Marxists struggled to reconcile Marx’s idea of fading nationalism with their ethnically diverse social structures. These Austro-Marxists came up with novel ideas and models such as federalism and autonomy to prevent the fading of ethnic identity. This was a problem that was persistent in the coming years and proved especially challenging to practice.

Another peculiar aspect of the Austro-Hungarian socialist movement was the immense mass power it had. This power was demonstrated through rallies in the streets. This was hugely impressive for a young man who had just arrived in the city in 1908. His name was Adolf Hitler. Although he was not attracted by the Social Democrats, the idea of mass politics was highly fascinating to him. In his book, Mein Kampf, he recalls how impressed he was with those masses “selling to the proportions of a menacing army”.

Karl Marx portrait on East German 100 mark (1975) banknote.
A portrait of Karl Marx on East German 100 mark banknote (1975). (Image: vkilikov/Shutterstock)

Socialism in Poland

In the late 18th century, Poland was divided by Russian, German, and Austrian empires. Different regions of the country were ruled by these empires. As a result, the socialist parties were not able to form unified and long-lasting parties in this country. Different parties under different names were formed, including the Proletariat Party, a Polish Socialist Party, the Polish Social Democratic Party, and the radical party of SDKPiL (Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania). These were all underground parties that broke up in the early stages.

This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Socialism in France

In France, the socialist movement was revived after it was wiped out by the suppression of the Paris Commune. There was a wide range of movements including non-Marxist socialists, Anarchists, and Utopian Socialists. All of these revolutionary and non-revolutionary movements had their share of supporters.

Socialism in Britain

The socialist movement in Britain was completely different from the rest. Although Marx had spent a good portion of his life in exile in Britain, his ideas were not as widely accepted there as in his home country, Germany.

British socialists had opposite ideas to the revolutionary Marxists. Instead of revolution and sudden upheaval, they believed in gradual reform. These ideas were adopted by British socialists from the principles of Fabianism. Some of the most noted members of the British socialist party include George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Fabianism also influenced the Labour Party. According to Harold Wilson, a Labour Prime Minister, the Methodist movement was a more influencing factor in the development of British socialism than Marx.

Learn more about World War I as a revolutionary opportunity.

Socialism in America

Like Britain, America was different from the mainstream European socialism. The Americans perceived socialists as dangerous non-American foreigners who were not different from anarchists. This idea, known as the Red Scare, was the result of a historical event in 1886.

 On May 4, a group of German anarchists were holding a protest in Haymarket Square, downtown Chicago. With police intervention to end the rally, things got out of hand after someone threw a bomb. The police opened fire and seven policemen and four civilians were killed. Some of the anarchists were found guilty and four of them were executed.

This tragic day still has its marks on American society. In most parts of the world, May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day, which was announced by the Second International to honor the Haymarket affair. But in America, the first Monday of September is Labor Day to separate it from the violent incident in Haymarket.

The incident has been known as one of the reasons why there is no mass socialism in America. But there are some other reasons which are more rooted in American culture and lifestyle. A number of scholars believe that capitalism is more imprinted in the minds of Americans than socialism. The high living standards in America are in contrast with socialist ideas of an absence of social class and private capital.  

Common Questions about Marxism in Europe and America after Marx

Q: What was the significance of the Haymarket affair?

The Haymarket affair in America increased anti-radicalism and anti-anarchism sentiments. The Americans associated socialism with anarchism after this incident. This is one of the reasons why there is no mass socialism in America.

Q: How did the Haymarket affair end?

The Haymarket affair, which had great implications for the socialist movement in America, ended with the arrest of several anarchists. Four anarchists were hanged. Several policemen and civilians were also killed in the riot.

Q: How did socialism spread in Europe?

Socialism after the death of Marx continued to spread in Europe through trade unions and socialist parties. They vowed to improve working conditions for workers and create a better life. The Second International brought these parties together in periodic congresses.

Q: Who is the father of socialism?

Karl Marx, the German philosopher first put forth the ideas of social justice and equality. In his Communist Manifesto, together with Freidrich Engels, he laid the foundations of Communism. After his death, socialist movements spread in the world and created massive changes in history.

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