The European social movements from the ‘long’ nineteenth century, which arose from three centuries of economic changes, were nurtured by the criticism emanating from the Enlightenment and the many social experiments carried out there in the uprisings and revolutions from 1798 to 1918. This held true for liberalism and even more so for the major currents later known as ‘leftist’ – socialism, anarchism, and communism – and for countless smaller reform movements. Aside from close resemblances, growing or diminishing differences existed between (and also within) all these groups, often precluding united action but generating a wealth of ideas. The IISH is very well-endowed throughout this field.

Socialism or social democracy originated in urbanized and industrialized Northwest Europe. Democratization had materialized fairly early on in these areas, manifesting through urban autonomy and guilds and later through national trade unions and political parties. This happened in Germany, where a large movement long channelled revolutionary and reformist tendencies (31); Great Britain, where the trade organizations had eloquent advocates very early on (32); the Netherlands, with its late reformism (33-34); and also France, where the term ‘socialism’ was actually invented (35-37). In these countries, as well as in Scandinavia, powerful socialist parties emerged and managed directly or indirectly to impose reforms, especially when suffrage kept being extended over the course of the century.

The theoreticians of the German movement, especially Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein, acquired a sweeping international influence toward the end of the century, until the First World War manifested the illusory nature of the internationalist ideals of socialism (38). Still, social democracy became so embedded everywhere that it easily survived the heavy blows of both world wars and became pivotal in European unification (39).