Karl Marx did not invent socialism. Elements of the idea have appeared here and there in human history, including in the U.S. during the period of youth upsurge in the 1960s and 1970s. Before Marx became famous, a number of philosophers and novelists had written about socialism. One famous version was named "Utopia."

There were many attempts to put socialist ideas into effect. During the period 1840-1860, several "socialist" communities were begun in the United States, where land was relatively cheap. Texas had a number of such experiments. History books usually dismiss them as having failed due to their own incompetence, but it is notable that the efforts in Texas and other Southern states came to an end during the war-drive years around 1860. The socialists opposed slavery.

drawing of a woman with a child, both in need

Socialist communities were characterized by the sharing of work and the fruits of work. During the 1970s in the United States, some "counter-culturalists" hoped that their "own" community-based institutions such as neighborhood gardens, clothing exchanges, free schools, and food co-ops would undermine and replace the powerful institutions of the capitalist world. In that period, Ivan Illich posited an "autotellic" society, and psychologist B.F. Skinner's utopian books, "Walden Two" and "Beyond Freedom & Dignity" found great popularity.

Opponents of socialism, who also go back through the ages, say it can't work. Additionally, they say that socialism is unfair or undemocratic. It is neither, but you can see why a capitalist would say that.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did not waste a lot of words trying to describe the heavenly benefits of a future socialist society. They published a list of some likely features that included the idea that the main factories and instruments of production would be owned and run democratically by the people.

They did not say, as their detractors constantly accuse them, that everybody had to give up their private property, families, and individual differences.

Where Marx and Engels differ from the utopians before and after them is that they put forward a viable plan for changing from the capitalism we have now to a democratic socialism of the future. Instead of "pie in the sky," they carefully analyzed what was going on and what had happened before. They assessed the motion of social changes and guided the progressive movement toward a much better society. They wrote, "In place of the old bourgeois [capitalist] society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

The capitalists laughed at the early socialists and dismissed them. They aren't laughing at scientific Marxism, and they can never dismiss it.


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You can go through these little modules in any order you like, but now that you have finished What Socialism Is and Isn't, then Materialism

is recommended next.