School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Collectivism or cooperation?: The contest for meaning in the French socialist movement, 1870-1890
    The French socialist movement emerged in the 1870s out of a complex network of ideas, factions and competing modes of organisation and action. The result would be a dramatic encounter between intellectual tradition and a radically transforming political reality. In the aftermath of the brutal repression of the Paris Commune, the re-emergence of the movement became a vigorously contested exercise in redefinition in which various strands of socialism would compete for ideological supremacy. The first socialist workers' party, the Parti Ouvrier, born in the heat of oratorical and theoretical disputation throughout the 1870s and 1880s, was riven by factional division and competing doctrinal tendencies. This foundational struggle was to create a notional framework that would shape socialist identity for decades to come. The traditional narrative is that of a rupture between antagonistic conceptions of socialism—reform versus revolution. The story is told of a movement breaking away from its 'reformist' political and intellectual origins to embrace a revolutionary collectivist doctrine. The apparent victory of the collectivists in 1879 and the growing influence of Marxism has underpinned an historiography that reflexively marginalises the relevance of the associative socialist tradition based on communal autonomy and its resonances both as an idea and as a political force. This thesis argues that this ideological triumphalism has obscured the underlying theoretical continuity between pre- and post-Commune socialism, the persistence of an intellectual tradition that was at the heart of debates over socialist identity and political practice. This debate found its most potent expression in the work of independent socialists such as Benoît Malon and in the journal, the Revue socialiste, where a native socialist tradition was revived. Independent socialists sought to reconcile the associative ideal (and its federalist, communalist impulse), which had dominated the nineteenth-century movement with the increasingly urgent need for revolutionary social transformation. In so doing they sought to transcend doctrinal antagonisms obliging unequivocal partisanship that characterised the early years of the Parti Ouvrier. Malon's work reflected a negotiation that was taking place despite the political and rhetorical contests. The socialist movement that emerged from the 1870s and 1880s was the product of a dynamic interplay between the legacies of the past and new repertoires of collective action. This thesis examines the period and the struggle that ultimately determined the fate of an idiosyncratically French socialist tradition.