Early socialists were more than daydreamers. Although some of them had their dreams and their utopian worlds continue to exercise a fascination, others were very down to earth. Many were not middle-class chatterers but artisans, whose socialism consisted of forming and belonging to mutual-aid groups, producer and retail cooperatives and radical clubs. They were passionate readers, writers and educators. Women were prominent in running literacy and other evening classes. They were often seamstresses and other working women, like Jeanne Deroin, who fought first to educate themselves, then to qualify as teachers and then to run their own schools. Working women set up and ran newspapers, small and ephemeral, but giving them a voice for the first time. They were also active in setting up crèches and hostels for workers. Socialist doctors ran free clinics for the poor or served as doctors to mutual-aid groups for a very modest fee. On occasions the scale, as well as the presence, of these self-help enterprises was impressive. Socialists were never more than a minority. What matters is that they believed that they could control their destiny; they did not have to rely on charity or a nanny state. Sometimes a strong bourgeois philanthropic streak was present, although by the 1850s many mutual-aid formations had dispensed with their middle-class props. The cooperation between people from different backgrounds and incomes to make mutual-aid work was notable and this cooperation was to be the basis for the later socialist parties.
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