THE TERM 'SOCIALISM' made its appearance in print in England in 1827. Five years later, the term was used for the first time in a French publication. It is no accident that the socialist idea --and the socialist movement--first appeared in England and France. For socialism was a product of two revolutions in human affairs, each with their respective roots in those two countries: the industrial revolution in England and the popular-democratic revolution in France.

The great French revolution of 1789-1799 involved the most massive popular struggles that had yet been seen in history. Rooted in popular hatred of an oppressive monarchy, the revolution rose on the backs of the masses of poor people in Paris who united under the banner of 'liberty, equality and brotherhood'. Beginning as a rebellion against the abuses of the monarchy, the revolution grew into a massive challenge to all forms of oppressive authority-- whether it was that of lords, priests or factory owners. Initially, the battle against the monarchy unified large sections of society. As the revolution advanced, however, a new ruling group tried to halt the process in order to maintain their grossly unequal system of property and power. As a result, the popular movement divided into conservative and revolutionary camps.

In the conservative camp were those who saw freedom simply in terms of the freedom to own property. In the revolutionary camp were those who represented the Paris poor and who recognised that freedom was impossible without equality; that it was meaningless to talk of liberty if this was confined to the right of some men and women to starve to death while others grew rich off the labour of others. As the radical leader Jacques Roux put it at the height of the French Revolution in 1793:

     Liberty is no more than an empty shell when one class
     of men is allowed to condemn another to starvation 
     without any measures being taken against them. And 
     equality is also an empty shell when the rich, by 
     exercising their economic monopolies, have the power of 
     life or death over other members of the community.

Out of the French Revolution, then, emerged the essential socialist idea that democracy and freedom require a society of equality. The French radicals recognised that genuine freedom presupposed the liberty of all to participate equally in producing and sharing the wealth of society. They understood that if some had the unequal right to own and monopolise land, wealth or factories, then others might just as unequally be condemned to a life of drudgery, misery and poverty.

But a society of equality requires a state of abundance. So long as economic life remains relatively backward, equality can only mean the common hardship of shared poverty. A healthy and thriving popular democracy requires a state of prosperity in which all the basic needs of people can be satisfied. Without a certain level of economic development, therefore, the French revolutionaries' demand for liberty and equality remained utopian. It was only with the enormous economic development unleashed by the industrial revolution in England that a society based upon equality and abundance became a realistic possibility.

The English industrial revolution conjures up images of dark and dirty textile mills, of ten-year-old children labouring in coal mines, of women and men working 12 and 14-hour days--in short, of suffering and misery. Such an image is largely correct. The industrial revolution that swept Britain, beginning in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, was a massive dislocation in social life: old communities were destroyed; people were forced off the land and into the tyranny of the factory; industrial diseases multiplied; hunger, poverty and illness spread; life expectancy fell. At the same time, however, several ingredients of the industrial revolution held out the prospect of an end to these ills. The new machinery of production that developed, especially during the early 1800s, offered the possibility of sharply reducing drudgery and toil and of massively increasing the production of wealth so as to eliminate poverty forever.

In reality, the industrial revolution did no such thing. Rather than leading to an improvement in the conditions of labour, the new industry was used to increase the fortunes of a few--the new industrial capitalists. Nonetheless, some writers saw in the industrial revolution an enormous potential for improving the human condition. Even some well- intentioned bankers and factory owners came to believe that the forces of the industrial revolution should be harnessed to serve human ends. Many of these become early advocates of what has become known as 'utopian socialism'.

Britain's best known utopian socialist was the cotton manufacturer Robert Owen. Like most of the early socialists drawn from the capitalist class, Owen did not call for a mass, democratic restructuring of society. For Owen, the working class was a pathetic and pitiful group. Owen's socialism was based on appealing to wealthy leaders of business and government in order to persuade them to improve the wretched conditions of the labouring masses.

In this respect, Owen was similar to the two earliest French utopian socialists, Henri Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. Saint-Simon was a real estate speculator turned banker who rose to great wealth in the decades after the French Revolution. Fascinated by the enormous potential of science and technology, Saint-Simon began to argue the case for a 'socialist' society that would eliminate the disorderly aspects of capitalism. Saint-Simon's 'socialism' was decidedly anti-democratic. He did not envisage an expansion of human rights and freedoms. Instead, he hoped for a planned and modernised industrial society ruled over by an international committee of bankers. In many respects, Saint-Simon anticipated the development of state capitalism; he looked forward to a capitalist system in which industry would be owned and directed by a government made up of a scientists, managers and financiers.

The socialism of Charles Fourier had more to commend it. A self-taught eccentric, Fourier developed some highly original ideas. But Fourier's outlook suffered from two main defects. First, he dismissed the potential of modern industry for bringing into being a society of abundance and looked nostalgically for a return to preindustrial conditions of life. Secondly, Fourier looked not to the masses of working people but to enlightened rulers to usher in the socialist utopia. He spent his time drawing up rigid blueprints for the new society and sent copies to rulers like the Czar of Russia and the President of the United States.

Indeed, this is the common thread that runs through the outlook of all the early utopian socialists. Each of them looked to some well- intentioned members of the ruling class to bring about a socialist transformation of society. Each rejected the notion that socialism could only be achieved democratically--through the. mass action of working people. For this reason, all their views car be described as variants of socialism from above--a view in which the masses of people are mere playthings of an enlightened elite who will change society in the interests of the masses of people. A the historian of socialism, George Lichtheim, has put it:

     French socialism, at the start, was the work 
     of men who had n thought of overturning society, 
     but wished to reform it, by enlightened 
     legislation if possible. This is the link 
     between Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, and Henri 
     de Saint-Simon.

There was, however, one revolutionary doctrine of socialism during this period. This consisted of what can best be called conspiratorial communism. Out of the defeat of the popular struggles of the French Revolution, one far-sighted group of rebel centered around a man named Gracchus Babeuf, developed a communist perspective. Babeuf and his followers believed that true democracy could only be constructed on the basis of common ownership of wealth. But they could see no way of winning a majority of society to support their communist programme. The masses of French people sought little else than protection of their own private property--their plot of land or their workshop. They showed little interest in a socialist transformation of society. For this reason, Babeuf--and his later follower, Adolphe Blanqui-- could only conceive of a revolution made by a minority, the communist elite. As a result, democracy remained foreign to their socialist programme as well.