The Jospin government in the late 1990s claimed to represent the “plural left”. In the United Kingdom the Labour Party reinvented itself as “New Labour”. The strategic problems are seen as education, social welfare and health and the position of women. Similarly, early socialism was a will-o'-the-wisp. Then, as now, the key issues were women, education and social welfare, but health, although a concern, was not as clearly defined as today. This book asserts the vitality and relevance of plural socialism in the first half of the nineteenth century, to show that the social question was addressed by a range of methods and led to a variety of milestones, but the underlying goal was to make society fairer. Charles Fourier set those who called themselves socialists the task of achieving a harmonious society and solving the social question by liberating workers and women. Women were a considerable force in early socialism.
What follows is a reinterpretation of the French early socialists, which stresses that their theories were matched by their practical efforts, particularly those of women. Karl Marx showered the early socialists with faint praise or disdain: recent historians have gone further and have begun to deny that early socialism existed. Histories of socialism often start in 1871. It is habitually claimed that early socialism was too diffuse and diverse to be considered to have a collective identity, and that it contributed little to the parliamentary socialist organizations that emerged during the Third Republic; there is even some suggestion that it is misleading and imprecise to use the term socialism to describe any of the reformers of the first half of the nineteenth century.
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