Revolution: Its Impact on Economic Theorists

The Planting of a Tree of Liberty in Revolutionary France (1790)
The Planting of a Tree of Liberty in Revolutionary France (1790) | Source

Origins of Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, and Anarchism

The late 19th century was a critical time of change: social, economical, political, and more. This change resulted from the revolutions of the previous centuries. Three such revolutions in particular are the French Revolution, Scientific Revolution, and the Christian Reformation. The culmination of these three revolutions gave birth to new political, social, and economical ideologies of Capitalism, Socialism- governmental and non-governmental, and Communism/Anarchism. Each ideology broke bonds with the old monarchial and feudal systems; however each has a very different view on the appropriate way to do so. The believers of each system firmly believe that their ideologies are the best, as revolutionaries must.[1] Socialism and Communism/Anarchism criticize Capitalism as not being a true revolution and not following the precedent set by the previous revolutions. Communism/Anarchism and Socialism also focus on the elimination of social classes; they want to do away with the historical pattern of the oppressor and the oppressed. Although they share some similarities governmental Socialism, Anarchical Socialism, and Anarchical Communism are very different, and often criticize the other.

[1] “The Duties of the Revolutionist to Himself,” Sergei Nechaev, 1869. Socialists and Revolutionaries. Pp.29

County Craftsmen by Wenceslas Hollar

Depicts craftsmen working on one set trade.
Depicts craftsmen working on one set trade. | Source

Workers in an Early Factory


Historic Context

I would first like to look into the historical background of the politics, social aspects and economics prior to the French Revolution. There was a great hierarchical system of king, clergy, noble, and serf. Inequality of civil rights, station, and wealth existed among the classes.[1] The wealth of the nation was based on its economic factors.[2] At this time the leading economic producer was agriculture. Most peasants, however, worked toward subsistence; only rarely could they produce enough to sell it others. Artisans hand crafted their goods to be sold. They could only make what they as an individual was capable of producing.[3] In this system both production and ownership of goods are individualistic acts, meaning the individual laborer produces the goods on their own and because of this owns what they produce (this is a basic model, ownership does change slightly when you consider serfs and nobles, yet even serfs were allowed to plow some land for subsistence living and this produce became theirs).[4]This type of production is sporadic and limits the economy.[5] In this system it is also very difficult to climb the social ladder to the next class; mobility is limited by subsistence production.[6] The Bourgeoisie in particularly wished for more power and social mobility. They also created new innovations that combined the labor of multiple people to produce more than what they could as individuals. This process made work less skilled and more repetitive. They were the first group to take small steps away from the feudal system towards a new system which “socialized labor”.[7]

The Bourgeoisie revolutionized the old economic system and presented Capitalism as the product of the French Revolution.[8] Capitalism socialized the production of labor while keeping the ownership and exchange of goods a private act.[9] This economic model while getting rid of the old class system and noble-serf oppression continues to have an authoritarian group over a subordinate group, Bourgeoisie over Proletariat.[10] The Proletariat created the socialized workforce, all coming together to do unskilled jobs to create more than they could alone, while the Bourgeoisie owned the machines and factories that made mass production possible. As a result, the Bourgeoisie maintained ownership over the goods produces and had the rights of exchange of the goods for greater wealth. In this system, the economy is no longer supported on agriculture, but rather exporting goods. The Proletariat then is forced into the city to earn an hourly wage subjected to them by the Bourgeoisie owner of a factory. This wage was usually fixed and the Proletariats were once again stuck in subsistence living. The Bourgeoisie also replaced the monarchy with a republic, where the people elected who would rule them.[11] Many revolutionaries believed that the capitalist movement had failed in its goals to revolutionize the old system; classes and class struggles still existed, there was still an authoritarian type of government ruling over the will of the people, and Bourgeoisie still had economic power over the Proletariat class.[12] This unrest led to the Socialist and Communist/Anarchist movements. Three ideologies of these movements will be discussed in this paper.

[1] “What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government,” Pierre Joseph Proudhon, 1840. Socialists and Revolutionaries. Pp. 13
[2] “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal,” Piotr Kropotkin, 1896. Socialists and Revolutionaries. Pp. 37
[3] Friedrich Engels. Pp 17
[4] Friedrich Engels. Pp 27
[5] Friedrich Engels. Pp 17
[6] Friedrich Engels. Pp 27
[7] Friedrich Engels. Pp 18
[8] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 11
[9] Friedrich Engels. Pp 27
[10] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 11
[11] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 10
[12] Friedrich Engels. Pp 19

Pierre Proudhon


Pierre Proudhon and Governmental Socialism

The first one to be looked at is the socialist views as presented by Pierre Proudhon. Early in his writing he declares that “Property is Robbery”.[1] He says this in order to present his point that property is what leads to the corruption of mankind, that property is unnatural and created by oppressive forces. This view of socialism rejects capitalistic ideals of equality, liberty, and justice because they are left in their vague definitions.[2] When in this form, those words mean nothing because they could mean anything. They are open to the definition which suits the authority in charge. Proudhon hopes to eliminate the vagueness of these ideals and to put them into practical terms which can be uniform.

Justice is organized as a few things. In one place he defines it in economical terms, as “the principle regulator of all transactions”.[3] In another, justice is defined as the elimination of privilege and slavery, equal rights, and the reign of the law.[4] Again, a term needs to be further defined in order to give it a concrete meaning. Law, in the view of Proudhon, is simply the “declaration and application of justice”.[5] The term law has had various meanings in preceding government systems. The law was the execution of the will of the king in Despotic systems. In Capitalist governments law is the considered the will of the people, but as interpreted by the group in charge.[6] However, law as the defined as the “declaration and application of justice”[7] cannot be subjected by the will of people, just as it cannot be used to wield power over the will of others.[8] The law simply is the structure by which justice is appropriated equally to each person. When people are free from the bonds created by property, they can actually experience liberty.[9] Liberty is also the freedom of thought to explore the ideas that the will of the sovereign, or in a republic, the will of a group of people, is not what should define the society. Rather people should be free from this oppression of wills for them from people outside themselves and should be ruled by facts.[10]

Equality is another ideal which is left vague in the capitalist system. Who does it include, and what type of equality does it entail? These are the questions left to be answered by its vagueness. In the Capitalist ideology, equality is the freedom for everyone to have the possibility to accumulate property.[11] This idea, however, creates greed and traps people in classes.[12] The bourgeoisie and proletariat classes are thus formed, and although they are different from the nobles and peasant classes, they equal the same thing: an oppressor class and a class of the oppressed.[13] Proudhon’s socialistic view defines equality as total equality, not just equality of opportunity. Elimination of class gives equality of station and the elimination of privilege for certain people above others. Wealth is distributed evenly, and everyone is seen as the same in the eyes of the law. This is not an anarchistic view, yet government is not a place of corruption because privilege is abolished. Governmental positions or positions of power are no longer seen as rewards but rather as a duty to your fellow man.[14]

[1] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 1
[2] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 3
[3] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 8
[4] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 2
[5] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 8
[6] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 12
[7] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 8
[8] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 12
[9] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 15
[10] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 12
[11] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 13
[12] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 15
[13] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 11
[14] Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Pp 13

Friedrich Engels


Friedrich Engels and Non-Governmental Socialism

Another ideology, presented by Friedrich Engels, is based in socialism, but claims that when society has achieved this form of socialism, government will no longer be a necessity; it will fade as the empowerment of society becomes stronger.[1] This type of Anarchical Socialism recognizes that social change will come, not when people recognize their want for the fulfillment of their ideological rights, such as justice, liberty, and equality, but rather when the economical situation calls for social change. Engels sees history as a series of methods of production and distribution. Societies are categorized on their ability and system of “what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged”.[2] Capitalism, the ideology Engel hopes to replace, is seen as the economical inevitability and evolution of the old feudal system of the Middle Ages. As tools and processes were developed, production was socialized.[3] However, in Capitalism, the power to produce and exchange were left individualized (as explained above). In this approach, it would only make sense that the next logical step in this progression would be to socialize the power and ability to exchange goods, so that those putting in the labor to produce can also receive ownership for their goods produced.[4] In this system, production and distribution would be stabilized and the cycle of crash which occurs in capitalism would be eliminated. Instead of producing to meet an unknown demand, production would be aimed at “direct social appropriation”, securing the current ability to produce while encouraging expansion of production, and “direct individual appropriation”, the distribution of goods to the individual to meet the needs of existence and to allow for enjoyment.[5]

Engels states that there are two conditions where this revolution can exist. First, when the “economic conditions are present to make the change possible”[6] this is a natural progression as discussed above. The second is when there once again is a class conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed, and the oppressed, in this case the proletariat, takes control of power.[7] In this economic revolution there is no room for classes. Society takes into possession all things except society itself, and government is also slowly eliminated as its only purpose becomes to regulate and conduct production.[8]

[1] Friedrich Engels. Pp 25
[2] Friedrich Engels. Pp 16
[3] Friedrich Engels. Pp 18
[4] Friedrich Engels. Pp 24
[5] Friedrich Engels. Pp 25
[6] Friedrich Engels. Pp 26
[7] Friedrich Engels. Pp 28
[8] Friedrich Engels. Pp 24,25

Piotr Kropotkin


Piotr Kropotkin and Anarchical Communism

The last ideology, presented by Piotr Kropotkin is that of Anarchical Communism. Kropotkin’s ideology opposes Socialism and the structure and uniformity it attempts to bring, saying that this is still yet another oppressive force on the proletariat.[1] He professes instead that, as the human mind is freed, an ideal of a society emerges where there is no “room for oppressors”.[2] Just as science has progressed from looking centrally at the universe, expanded and explored ideas of the larger universe beyond our world, and finally has moved on to investigate internally at the relationship of atoms, so has the focus of society, allowing Anarchical Communists to focus on the growth of the individual.[3] Each individual is able to govern himself and his will.[4]

Anarchy and Communism go together because, the Communistic approach allows the individual live beyond the bonds of subsistence living. This freedom allows the individual to pursue various amendments on the quality of life, such as education and art.[5] Communism as an economic method eliminates classes and allows the worker to be freed from the powerless position they once held. The worker is no longer told the product does not belong to them simply because someone else owns the means of production while they are the ones familiar with the process of production.[6] Kropotkin states the fall of Capitalism is that it produces too little at too high of a cost, so that workers cannot afford to be owners of their own products. In this system, production stops, saying there was over production while people are left starving.[7] Communism looks to produce what each individual needs and thus distribute goods, in this way the problem created in Capitalism will be eliminated. The interest of each individual becomes the interest of all; the good of individuals working together supports and sustains the society of all people.[8] As a result, government will have no place and not exist.

Kropotkin states this is not an idealist notion because it is government itself which corrupts people.[9] Order is not kept because of the presence of a governmental force; one is not kept from being criminalized by the presence of the police but rather it is the result of the lack of criminals.[10] Anarchism fits with Communism because it does not only seek to destroy the presence of government; it also recognizes the need to build something in its place. It does not put the reconstruction in the hands of a few people, which leads to corruption, but rather in everyone.[11] Communism allows for people to grow in a way where Anarchism is possible through “repression of antisocial acts, moral teaching, and practice of mutual help”.[12]

[1] “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal,” Piotr Kropotkin, 1896. Socialists and Revolutionaries. Pp 33,38
[2] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 37
[3] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 34-38
[4] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 38
[5] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 48
[6] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 39
[7] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 40
[8] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 46
[9] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 45
[10] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 44
[11] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 46
[12] Piotr Kropotkin. Pp 48


In conclusion, although Governmental Socialism, Anarchical Socialism, and Anarchy/Communism share common conditions for emerging and some common ideals, each has its own unique aspect which separates it from the other ideologies. Pierre Proudhon, in his view of Governmental Socialism, looks to government to ensure equality, liberty, and justice for all people. He recognizes the vagueness of each ideal and declares an appropriate universal definition for each. Friedrich Engels declares that socialism will be brought by necessity spawned from economical change. He believes that once that happens, classes will be eliminated and as a result there will be no need for a government which deals with class representation. Thus slowly society will no longer need a government, leading to Anarchical Socialism. The last ideology, Anarchy/Communism, presented by Piotr Kropotkin states that Anarchy and Communism complement each other because both allow the freedom and growth of the individual. He states that the individual a basically good being, is corrupted by government and can be trusted with the responsibility to govern themselves while contributing toward the best interests of all. The ideologies which began in the late 19th century are still very relevant to the politics of the modern day.

More by this Author


Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen Swan 3 years ago from County Durham

Whatever one political leanings this is an interesting article.

giftrin profile image

giftrin 3 years ago

I like interesting article.

Jay C OBrien profile image

Jay C OBrien 19 months ago from Houston, TX USA

We are individuals and not economic theorists. Each person must make their way in the conditions in which they were raised. A few people have prospered despite being born at the bottom of the social order (Andrew Carnegie and others). What made these people prosper and other not so much?

Perhaps there is more to an individual than can be discerned from the material.

The monastic system was not mentioned. No money need be used in this system. Everyone goes to their assigned work and receives food, clothing and housing. The monastic system assumes inequities will be made right in another plane of existence. We are here to help and reconcile with one another, not merely provide for the material.

Robert Levine profile image

Robert Levine 19 months ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

Regarding your introduction: the Protestant Reformation didn't happen in the 18th Century.

Mark Lees profile image

Mark Lees 19 months ago

Very interesting take on the theories. As an anarchist myself I rcognise Proudhon and Kropotkin as forerunners to my ideological position, algh think Bakunin would have been a more interesting case study.

Pleased to note that you link Engels to the anarchist movement. It is a rarely considered feature of Marxist communism that it should lead to anarchism as the state whithers. Unfortunately, and as Bakunin predicted, the state does not relinquish power that easily.

Voted up.

ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 19 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi, government is good if it ensures that all people have the same rights and justice. When government becomes corrupted it no longer can work the way it should. A very interesting and informative hub,

Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 19 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Very interesting and intelligent article. You presented the facts with good research. Voted up and interesting.

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