The convergence of liberalism and socialism
Liberalism and socialism are two ideologies at complete opposites. Economic and political conditions were seen through different vantage points such that the other chose the extreme opposite of the other. Though this may be the case, there were points where these two held the same standpoint on a certain issue. Such similarity was regarded as the convergence in liberal and socialist principles.
The 19th and early 20th centuries were times of economic and political advancement. With these advancements, the human conditions were also seen at its worst in relation to the technological innovations that were said to be the cause of societal development. However, both liberalism and socialism recognize that such was not the case. The advancements in the economy did produce advanced dilemma for the societies and time after time, these dilemmas were slowly boiling to become the precursors of the revolutionary high tide that swept the whole of Europe, threatening the foundations of the most established states and put the most resilient of the governments to their knees. Hence the power of the peoples’ struggle was displayed.
In these struggles, liberalism and socialism were often indistinct to the common observation. This was attributed to the similarities in some aspects in their principles that almost created a very blurred line. That convergence was seen in the both theories’ assertion that it was the working class that suffered the gravest of the social ills. As these would be presented in the succeeding paragraphs, important economic and political treatises will be used as bases for our assertion of the convergence.
Henceforth, liberalism and socialism will not be seen as opposites that could not meet at a common point but as two ideologies sharing the same sympathy to the miseries endured by the toiling masses. Thus liberal and socialist methods of social probation will be utilized.
The rapid changes in the mode of production from its previous state of feudal relations towards a capitalist model of expropriation and appropriation also gave rise to a much worsened conditions of the working class. Liberals and socialists alike recognized that indeed the working men of Europe had continued to bear the burden of the capitalist system amidst miserable and subhuman conditions. That miserable condition has driven the oppressed proletarian class to find the necessary measures to end such conditions. Liberal and socialist theorists had all at the same time asserted that the plight of workers was a fertile ground for a revolutionary cause. It was the economic question that bound these two. As John Stuart Mill stated in his “Liberalism Evaluated”, he suggested that the raw materials needed in the industrial production should not be own by any one but by every being concerned. In directly quoting him, he argued that “the social problem of the future we considered to be, how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labor” were essential in changing the conditions existing at that time and that the fruits of labor must not be concentrated to the few but should be equally felt by the masses who have worked for its attainment.
This assertion was further galvanized by David Ricardo. He recorded in his “The Iron Law of Wages” the great misery which the entire proletarian class underwent and how labor had deprived of its dignity when it was reduced to a mere commodity –could be bought and sold. He pointed out that “labor, like all other things which are purchased and sold, and which may be increased or diminished in quantity, has its natural and its market price. The natural price of labor is that price which is necessary to enable the laborers, one with another, to subsist and to perpetuate their race, without either increase or diminution”. Such analysis accentuated that truly, the laborers’ sole property, the capacity to work, had become a mere commodity in the market economy.
William Morris wrote in his essay “How I Became A Socialist” presented such inequality in the society which he described as “champagne to the rich and margarine to the poor in such convenient proportions as would make all men contented together.” In this essence, it had given us an idea that liberal and socialist alike have agreed that there is in some aspect, the possibility of a convergence. It was very clear based on these texts that liberals and socialists alike take into consideration that the inequality in the society is caused by the economic factors. This inequality has made possible the acquisition of wealth by the handful and miserable living by the most of the toiling masses. Such sad reality had always been inconceivable but it was what had happened.
Subsequently, David Ricardo had attributed this miserable state of the working class. He said that labor being a sole property of a man has been turned into a commodity. Labor is priced high when it is not abundant and cheap when there is a huge surplus of labor readily available for the capitalist and since Malthusian conception of population explosion predicts of an ever growing population with a very limited supply of food, more like labor could be manipulated so decisively that labor is almost bought on such a minimal price. Hence he added that “When the market price of labor is below its natural price, the condition of the laborers is most wretched: then poverty deprives them of those comforts which custom renders absolute necessaries. It is only after their privations have reduced their number, or the demand for labor has increased, that the market price of labor will rise to its natural price, and that the laborer will have the moderate comforts which the natural rate of wages will afford.” Such annotations to the state of the proletarian class had greatly convinced us that in ideological respect, there had been somewhat agreeable points.
Such was the disdained analogy of the conditions of the European working class that some liberals and almost all socialists would ask for the abolishment of the government run by the capitalist exploiters and set a government by the working class themselves or in liberal terminologies the government must be democratized in order to cater to the common needs of man. Now, these were some of the most important notions raised by both camps. It was clear that indeed state was an apparatus of the ruling clique and because of that cannot be trusted to advance the workers’ rights and interests.
Presumably, this has what prompted Lenin when he wrote “What is to be done?” which has become a revolutionary guide through the struggles of oppressed workers. He even went to the far side of claiming that a certain core of revolutionaries’ guide the working class towards victory by taking advantage of the class contradictions which he said were the key to achieving a genuine socialist state. Though Bernstein argues against revolution and provides the leniency on the evolution of the society and to finally make the ruling class realize that.
Hence these are the only points that liberalism and socialism would have converged. It was a convergence of ideas and not of organizations. There were some parallelisms in the economic and political standpoints but it only remained to be at that stage and nothing more. The limitation of this could be because most of the progressive section of the ruling class affirms to liberalism while the most progressives in the toiling masses embrace socialism as the way to emancipate the proletariat. The economic status of those who embraced these two ideologies has also considered that either cannot be trusted since their places in society demand them to be such. No other way liberalism and socialism become two principles working side by side.
Bernstein, Edouard. “Evolutionary Socialism.” In Modern History Sourcebook, ed Paul Halsall. Place Published, 1997.
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. “What Is to Be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement.” In Lenin’s Collected Works, 347-530. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961.
Malthus, Thomas R. First Essay on Population. London: Macmillan, 1926.
Morris, William. “Why I Am a Socialist.” In Modern History Sourcebook, ed Paul Halsall. Place Published, 1997.
Ricardo, David. “The Iron Law of Wages, 1817.” In The Works of David Ricardo, edited by J.R. McCulloch. London: John Murray, 1881.
 P. 11-17 Malthus, Thomas R. First Essay on Population. London: Macmillan, 1926.
 P. 231 Mill, John Stuart. “Liberalism Evaluated.” In Autobiography, 230-34. London, 1873.
 P. 31 Ricardo, David. “The Iron Law of Wages, 1817.” In The Works of David Ricardo, edited by J.R. McCulloch. London: John Murray, 1881.
 P. 9 Morris, William. “Why I Am a Socialist.” In How I Became a Socialist, 9. London: Twentieth Century Press, Ltd.,, 1896.
 P. 23 Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. “What Is to Be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement.” In Lenin’s Collected Works, 347-530. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961.
 P. 74 Bernstein, Edouard. “Evolutionary Socialism.” In Modern History Sourcebook, ed Paul Halsall. Place Published, 1997.